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‘One-Kidney Village’: Afghans so desperate, they’ve taken to selling their organs for cash

Economic crisis after takeover by Taliban has pushed many to the brink

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In a settlement near the town of Herat in northwestern Afghanistan, so many residents have sold their kidneys that it has become known as “One-Kidney Village.”

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Six months after the takeover by the Taliban, the country’s economy has been devastated. More than 24 million people — 59 per cent of the population — are at risk of famine, 30 per cent more than in 2021, according to the United Nations, and 500,000 Afghans have lost their jobs.

This poverty has pushed many to sell their organs in order to buy food, pay debts — and in one case, to prevent the sale of a child.

In this photo taken on Feb. 3, 2022, Aziza, who plans to sell her kidney to raise money for her family, poses with her young daughter Parwina at their house in Herat.
In this photo taken on Feb. 3, 2022, Aziza, who plans to sell her kidney to raise money for her family, poses with her young daughter Parwina at their house in Herat. Photo by WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images

Aziza, a 20-year-old mother of three in Shenshayba Bazaar village, said she’s waiting for a broker to find her a buyer for her kidney for some time, and that if she is unable to locate one, she might have to sell her one-year-old daughter. Her husband manages to bring home, at most, only the equivalent of $1.50 a day from his cart stall in a market. “What can I do with that?” she asks in this video from France24.com.

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“My children roam on the streets begging,” she told AFP. “If I don’t sell my kidney, I will be forced to sell my one-year-old daughter.”

On top of selling organs, in recent months, reports have surfaced of parents offering daughters into marriage or to childless couples for money because they can no longer afford to feed them.

In this photo taken on Feb. 4, 2022, Nooruddin, who sold his kidney to raise money for his family, shows the scars from the operation, next to his son Javid at their house in the Khwaja Koza Gar area in Herat.
In this photo taken on Feb. 4, 2022, Nooruddin, who sold his kidney to raise money for his family, shows the scars from the operation, next to his son Javid at their house in the Khwaja Koza Gar area in Herat. Photo by WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images

Nooruddin is a 32-year-old father who also has no alternative, as he is one of the unemployed in Herat, which has a population of 575,000.

“I didn’t want to, but I didn’t have any option. I did it for my children,” he says as he shows the long diagonal scar from the surgery on the left side of his abdomen.

“I regret it now,” he told AFP outside his home, where clothes hang from a tree and a plastic sheet serves as a window pane. “I can no longer work. I’m in pain and I cannot lift anything heavy.”

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The brokers, as in all sectors of an economy, are the go-betweens, finding buyers for goods someone wants to sell. These ones match up someone with a health need — and the money — for an organ and someone in desperate need of cash.

A wealthy buyer will pay the kidney donor — the price once ranged from US$3,500 to US$4,000 but has dropped to less than US$1,500 since the Taliban took over — as well as the hospital bills.

As for the hospitals who perform these surgeries, there exists little regulation on organ trafficking. One doctor says they don’t ask questions about where the organ comes from or who they are transplanting it into: “We have never investigated it because it’s not our job.”

Another young mother, 19-year old Shakila, sacrificed a kidney to pay off the family’s debt and to buy food for her two children. After receiving the equivalent of about $2,000, she paid off debt of just over $1,650 and bought food stores with the rest.

She, too, felt she had no choice. After the Taliban takeover, the resulting economic crisis and a lack of foreign aid, she said “no one helped us.”

— with additional reporting by The Daily Telegraph

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