Medical professors in alleged organ trafficking racket

Egyptian authorities recently busted what they said was the biggest illegal organ trafficking ring in the country’s history. The suspects include medical professors at the universities of Cairo and Ain Shams, Egypt’s two main public academic institutions, the Health Ministry said.

Others among the 25 suspects arrested on 6 December are doctors, nurses, brokers and owners of medical laboratories, according to the ministry. It said some foreigners were also involved, but did not specify their nationalities.

Investigations by Egypt’s Administrative Control Authority and the Health Ministry focused on private hospitals and health centres – licensed and unlicensed – where transplants and organ-harvesting took place, Reuters reported.

Authorities found “millions of dollars and gold bullion”, said Reuters, and seized computers and documents from the 10 centres.

The suspects are accused of taking advantage of the economic woes of poor Egyptians, and luring them into selling their organs in deals that helped members of the alleged ring make fortunes re-selling them to wealthy Arab patients.

Investigations revealed that in one instance the network bought an organ for EGP20,000 (US$1,000) and re-sold it for US$100,000, according to Egyptian media.

What the universities say

Cairo University said that two of its medical lecturers were among the accused in the case.

They were identified as Dr Saad Al Basha, a professor of anesthesia, and Dr Sherif Ibrahim, a lecturer in surgery. Names of other suspected lecturers were not released.

The president of Cairo University, Gaber Nassar, denied that any hospitals run by the university were implicated in the scam.

“The university would like to reassure the public that its hospitals operate according to strict mechanisms that do not allow illegal organ trafficking to take place,” he said.

“The university will wait for the findings of investigations before taking the necessary procedures that can reach expulsion from the job,” added Nassar, a law professor, in a statement.

Ain Shams University, also based in Cairo, vowed similar action.

Some Egyptians who sold their organs to the ring were picked from university hospitals, the private newspaper Al Watan reported without details.

Meanwhile, the Egyptian Doctors’ Association, an independent union, said it would revoke the licences of the doctors should they be convicted of involvement in organ trafficking.

“If the court finds these doctors guilty, they will be banned from practising the profession for life, in addition to criminal charges that will put them in jail,” Rashwan Shaaban, a member of the association’s board, told the semi-official newspaper Al-Ahram Weekly.

The suspects also include medical workers at a state-run nephrology centre. But the Ministry of Health said that all the illegal transplants had been conducted at privately owned hospitals, and added that it had shut down all medical facilities involved in the illegal business.

Illegal but thriving

Trade in human organs is prohibited in Egypt and punishable with 15 years in prison. Still, Egypt is believed to be among the world’s top centres for illegal organ trafficking.

The country is also a hub for illegal migrants trying to reach Europe. Some of them have reportedly been killed by smugglers for their organs.

In response to the recent bust, some members of Egypt’s Parliament have said they will push for tougher punishment in organ trafficking cases.

“This is one of the most serious crimes against humanity that necessitates applying the death penalty,” said MP Ahmed Al Sherif, adding that his pro-government Congress Party would propose to the legislature enforcing the death penalty against convicted organ traffickers.

“This is meant to prevent Egypt from turning into a factory for human spare parts from Egyptian bodies.”