NOTTO Orders Probe Into Reports Linking Apollo Hospitals To ‘Cash For Kidneys Racket’

New Delhi: The National Organ and Tissue Transplant Organisation (NOTTO), under the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, has ordered a probe into reports linking Apollo Hospitals to a “cash for kidneys racket” involving Myanmar nationals.

The allegations surfaced in a report by UK daily The Telegraph on December 3, which said “desperate young villagers” from Myanmar were brought to Delhi’s Apollo Hospital and paid to donate their kidneys to rich patients, also from Myanmar. The racket included forging identity documents and staging “family” photographs to falsely present donors as relatives of prospective patients, it said.

In a letter to Delhi Health Secretary, Dr S B Deepak Kumar, on Tuesday, NOTTO Director Dr Anil Kumar asked him to “get the matter examined, take appropriate action as per the provisions of (the Act) and furnish an action taken report within a week”.

The Delhi Health Secretary said a committee was being formed to probe the matter. Saying that details of donors and patients have been sought from the hospital, he added, “we are waiting for the hospital to respond”.

In India, the organ transplantation law permits donations from “near relatives” like siblings, parents or spouses. Additionally, altruistic donations from friends and distant relatives are allowed, but strict measures are in place to verify that the motivation is driven by care rather than financial gain. These legal provisions aim to safeguard the poor and vulnerable from potential exploitation.

Under Indian law, patients are required to submit documents establishing the relationship between the donor and the patient, including the family tree.

In the case of foreign nationals, the relevant embassy must issue a ‘Form 21’ certifying the relationship between the donor and recipient. The documents must be authenticated by the embassy, after which a no-objection certificate is issued. The mandatory documentation must be completed before presenting the case to the authorisation committee.

A government-appointed transplant authorisation committee then reviews the submitted documents and conducts interviews with the recipient and donor to confirm their relationship. This committee comprises a central government officer, a state government officer, two retired IAS officers, and two hospital consultants who, while not on the hospital’s payroll, practise there as doctors.

“Prima facie, it looks like all of the cases (reported by The Telegraph) have Form 21. We will look at procedures at our end. At this point, we will not be reaching out to Myanmar,” said senior officials.

According to The Telegraph report, in September 2022, a 58-year-old patient from Myanmar paid £31,000 for a new kidney. The donor was a stranger, and the operation was carried out at Indraprastha Apollo Hospital in New Delhi, it said.

The report further said that its reporter, posing as a relative of a person in urgent need of a kidney transplant, contacted Apollo’s Myanmar offices and was informed that a stranger could be arranged as a donor for a price.

It said that Dr Thet Oo, the head of Apollo’s Myanmar operation, revealed additional details to The Telegraph’s undercover reporter regarding the “subterfuge”.

When contacted, an Apollo spokesperson in India confirmed to The Indian Express that Dr Thet Oo had been fired, but did not disclose the grounds for his termination or his specific involvement in the case.

Apollo officials said the hospital does not have a medical centre in Myanmar. However, hospital officials said that Dr Thet Oo was recruited as the operations manager for Apollo Hospitals in Myanmar. Besides spreading awareness about the facilities at the hospital in India, he organised public talks when Apollo doctors from India visited the country, said officials.

The Telegraph said the operations were carried out by renowned renal transplant surgeon Dr Sandeep Guleria. Dr Guleria did not respond to The Indian Express‘s requests for a comment on the issue.

In 2016, the hospital was named in another kidney racket where poor people were allegedly lured from states like West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh. In the case probed by Delhi Police then, it was alleged that the entire documentation and verification process for organ transplant was bypassed by using papers forged by a “gang”.

In a statement on Tuesday, Indraprastha Medical Corporation Ltd dismissed the latest allegations against its hospital as “absolutely false, ill-informed and misleading”.

“IMCL complies with every legal and ethical requirement for the transplant procedures, including all guidelines laid down by the government as well as our own extensive internal processes that exceed compliance requirements. For example, IMCL requires every donor to provide Form 21 notarised by the appropriate ministry in their country. This form is a certification from the foreign government that the donor and recipient are indeed related,” it said.

“The government-appointed transplant authorisation committee at IMCL reviews documents for each case including this certification and interviews the donor and the recipient. It further re-validates the documents with the concerned embassy of the country. The patients and donors undergo several medical tests, including genetic testing. These and many more steps far exceed any compliance requirements for a transplant procedure and ensure that donor and recipient are indeed related as per applicable laws. IMCL remains committed to the highest standards of ethics and to delivering on our mission to bring the best healthcare to all,” it said.

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