New paper highlights difficulties of measuring transplant tourism

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In a new paper in the American Journal of Transplantation, Ambagtsheer et al. (2016) "conclude that the scientific literature does not reflect a large number of patients buying organs." After performing a literature review, they document 6002 transplant tourists internationally, between 1971 and 2013, of whom 1238 reportedly obtained commercial transplants. However, in a letter commenting on the study, Ahn et al. (2016) note that Saudi Arabia alone has reported a total of 6079 patients obtaining kidney transplants abroad between 1998 and 2013. The authors of both papers highlight the difficulties of estimating global activity in commercial transplants and travel for transplantation, and the limits of literature reviews. They also emphasise the valuable roles of national and international registries and of transplant professionals in collecting and reporting data on these phenomena, as the comprehensive data published by the Saudi Center for Organ Transplantation illustrates. 

The DICG is currently working with members and collaborating organizations to develop tools and guidelines that will facilitate collection and analysis of data concerning travel for transplantation and organ trafficking, in order to inform strategies to prevent harm and improve equitable access to transplantation worldwide.

Ambagtsheer, F., de Jong, J., Brame, W.M., Weimar, W. 2016. On patients who purchase organ transplants abroad. American Journal of Transplantation, 16: 2800-2815.

Abstract:

The international transplant community portrays organ trade as a growing and serious crime involving large numbers of traveling patients who purchase organs. We present a systematic review about the published number of patients who purchased organs. With this information, we discuss whether the scientific literature reflects a substantial practice of organ purchase. Between 2000 and 2015, 86 studies were published. Seventy-six of these presented patients who traveled and 42 stated that the trans- plants were commercial. Only 11 studies reported that patients paid, and eight described to what or whom patients paid. In total, during a period of 42 years, 6002 patients have been reported to travel for transplantation. Of these, only 1238 were reported to have paid for their transplants. An additional unknown number of patients paid for their transplants in their native countries. We conclude that the scientific literature does not reflect a large number of patients buying organs. Organ purchases were more often assumed than determined. A reporting code for transplant professionals to report organ trafficking networks is a potential strategy to collect and quantify cases. 

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