As a kidney donation racket is traced to a prime hospital in the heart of the Capital, figures available with the Union Ministry of Health show why the organ is such a lucrative commodity. Of the one-two lakh people who require the organ every year, as per figures, only about 5,000 manage to get a transplant.
That’s not all. Data also shows that if you are a woman in need of a kidney, you are three times less likely to get one as compared to a man in a similar position.
Kidney transplant data from 1971 till date available with the Indian Transplant Registry (a non-government effort supported by the Indian Society of Organ Transplantation) shows that only 4,841 women have got kidneys from living donors against 15,771 men in the same period.
Doctors associated with transplant surgery and nephrology say there is no gender difference in the incidence of kidney failures. The gap, they believe, is due to socioeconomic reasons, with families preferring surgery for the bread earner (in most cases a man) rather than the woman.
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Tellingly, transplant surgeons add, their estimates are that 70-90 per cent donors are women.
Even in cadaver donations — that is transplantation of kidneys of a dead person — there is substantial gender disparity. In the last 45 years, as per the Transplant Registry, 542 men have got cadaver transplants, against 241 women.
Doctors say the cost of the surgery is a deterrent, though once a woman has been put on the waiting list for a cadaver organ, there are rarely any dropouts by families. The procedure can cost anywhere between Rs 3-6 lakh.
It is a social reality that the man of the family gets precedence over others, says Dr Harsh Jauhari, Chairman, Department of Transplant Surgery at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital and advisor to the government of India on organ transplants. “It is an expensive surgery, it is only now that the government has started a programme subsidising treatment of kidney diseases. Families rally around the breadwinner to save him. We have seen that 85-90 per cent donors are women. A wife will willingly donate for a husband, but it is more difficult for the woman,” he says.
Adding that families rarely pull out once they had put members on waiting list for a kidney, including women, Dr Jauhari says, “That is because dialysis also is an expensive procedure.”
Saying women are “condemned to a lifetime of dialysis or no treatment whereas they make up 70 per cent of donors”, Dr Rajesh Ahlawat, consultant urologist at Fortis Escorts, says, “It is basically a cultural thing. When it is the breadwinner of the family, people go all out to save him. They are desperate, anybody who is a match, wife, brother, father-in-law, mother-in-law, will donate, but when the person is a woman, the effort is half-hearted. So many wives donate kidneys for their husbands but on the day when a husband does the same for his wife, we really celebrate.”
Dr Jauhari though has a word of hope. “In the last five years, we have started seeing men coming forward to donate kidneys to their wives. It is extremely heartening.”