Interview granted to the Romanian newspaper Adevarul
Q. Do you think there are huge networks of traffic in organs that operate in Romania? How many Romanians it is estimated, in your opinion, annually sell organs?
A. "Huge" would be an exaggeration. Globally, about 10,000 organs are illegally harvested and transplanted each year. Donors in Moldova receive c. $3000 per kidney and in Romania - double this amount. There are c. 600 known donors in Moldova and no figures available for Romania. Still, it would be safe to assume that more than 2000 Romanian citizens have sold their organs in the last decade. Each year, about 100 Romanians sell kidneys to Israeli brokers who work with South-African hospitals and another 200-300 sell organs, mostly kidneys, to criminal rings and networks with connections to Turkey, Brazil, Italy, and the USA. Romanian organs are expensive and so organ harvesting has shifted to Asia and parts of Latin America.
Organ sellers - euphemistically called "donors" - are mainly poor, unemployed, and Roma. Romanians who want to emigrate or are in debt sometimes end up selling their organs or brokering such sales from prisoners, soldiers, and even adolescents. It is easy to find advertising related to organ trafficking on the Internet and even in the daily papers.
Q. What method is used more often in the case of Romania? Romanians who want to sell their organs are taken abroad to have their organs removed? Or, they are operated in Romania, then the organs are removed from the country? Or both methods are used?
A. Actually, organ sellers are often flown from other countries (even from Israel) INTO Romania. The organs are then harvested in Romania. Rarely, the organs are transplanted in Romania using fraudulent affidavits claiming that the donor and recipient are relatives. More frequently, the organs are flown to other countries, such as South Africa and Turkey, where the operations take place.
Many people are involved in these networks: from petty criminals to politicians and from medical doctors to businessmen. In Romania, the typical organ broker is a donor: someone who sold his kidney. Small-time criminals are also involved as well as officials in Customs and Immigration and, to a lesser extent, the Police and the Airports. Even hospital directors are in on the take.
A typical patient pays c. $120.000 per transplant, so there is a lot of money to divide. It is no wonder that Romania was the only country not to attend the conference that yielded the Istanbul Declaration against organ trafficking and transplant tourism!
Generally speaking: trafficked organs are either sold domestically, or exported to be transplanted into patients from the US, Europe, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and especially Israel.
Q Have you heard or seen cases in which the Romanians sold their organs?
A. Yes, and so have you: Robert Mihaly in 2005.
Q. What are the organs most commonly trafficked from Eastern Europe?
A. Kidneys are the most sought after, extracted, sold, and transplanted. Harvesting a kidney poses few risks to the donor. Kidneys are tiny and easy to conceal and smuggle. About 10,000 kidneys are harvested illegally each year.
Q. Are the rumors about harvesting organs from adopted children true ?
A. No, they are not. Children's organs are often ill-suited for transplantation for histological and immunological reasons. So, the stories about Israeli adoption agencies which work in tandem with Israeli doctors to extract organs from Romanian children are nonsense and merely the latest version of the medieval anti-Semitic blood libel. Still, I am ashamed to say that Israeli doctors are very prominent in the organ trafficking and transplant tourism business.