Entertainment

Indonesians are Buying and Selling Human Kidneys on Facebook

The going price for a kidney can range from 5,000 to 90,000 Australian dollars.
Gavin Butler
Melbourne, AU
Image via Shutterstock

For thousands of people looking to score a kidney in Indonesia, Facebook’s the place to go. A high rate of national kidney failure combined with a low rate of registered donations means that demand for black market transplants is strong: and more and more people are turning to social media to buy the organs of complete strangers, or sell their own for some quick cash.

These kinds of transactions are very much against the law. But Tony Samosir, Chairman of the Indonesian Dialysis Community, explains that for the estimated 150,000 patients suffering from kidney failure in Indonesia, illicit marketplaces—accessed via a growing number of Facebook groups—are often the only available avenue.

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"It's easy to get offers of commercial kidney organs on the internet, there are even certain groups of kidney donor brokers on social media," Tony told the ABC. "It's like general trade: people openly sell their kidneys to pay off debts, medical expenses, start a business … No money, no kidney."

These Facebook “trade” groups act as a mediator: connecting desperate buyers with often desperate sellers, facilitating the deal, and in some cases auctioning out the organs to the highest bidder. Prices for a kidney typically range anywhere between 100 million rupiah ($9,270) and 350 million rupiah ($32,430), but Tony suggests that they occasionally exceed $90,000 AUD.

Many of the posts in social media groups are sellers looking to cash in on this market: citing medical costs, debts, and the need to provide for their family as reasons for putting their vital organs up for sale. One such man, Adi, told the ABC that he wants to sell his kidney to clear the “massive debt” that he accumulated after borrowing money for his wedding. He’s reportedly hoping to make about $5,000 for the sale.

“There have been a couple of people contacting me with enquiries but no serious offers,” he said.

After heart disease, kidney failure bears the second highest cost to Indonesia’s healthcare system. And yet, according to the Global Observatory on Donation and Transplantation, donation rates in the country remain low.

Certain groups are pushing to introduce an “opt-out” system of donation, whereby people would have to register as a non-donor in order to prevent their organs from being harvested when they die. Tony, meanwhile, wants to increase the donation rate of kidneys in particular by raising awareness and establishing a National Transplant Committee.

“If we want to donate blood, we know we have to go to Indonesian Red Cross; if we want to donate our cornea, we go to the eye bank,” he said. “But if we want to donate our kidney or other organs, where do you go? If there was a committee, we could boost people’s awareness and campaign about kidney donating.”