Kidney transplant scandal spreads
Marelize Barnard, Die Burger
Cape Town - The furore over the controversial kidneys-for-cash operations in which poor people were paid to donate kidneys to wealthy overseas clients, has spread to the Western Cape and Gauteng.
The first operations to harvest kidneys from poor Brazilians for wealthy Israelis were apparently carried out in Cape Town hospitals.
Western Cape health MEC Theunis Botha told reporters on Sunday that he would meet with his management team on Monday to discuss the Netcare kidney debacle and the new twist of alleged involvement of Western Cape hospitals.
An investigation would now be launched into the latest claims, which place two Cape Town hospitals - Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital and the Netcare private academic hospital at Groote Schuur - right in the middle of the international web of kidney trading.
Netcare hospital group was plunged into controversy last year when it emerged that illegal kidney transplants had been conducted at its hospitals.
Four Durban surgeons appeared in the Durban Commercial Crimes Court last week on charges of fraud and the illegal trade in human tissue, which related to illegal kidney transplant operations at St Augustines Hospital.
According to the Star, one of the surgeons, Professor John Robbs, claimed that the Durban surgeons were being made scapegoats while surgeons from Johannesburg and Cape Town were not being prosecuted.
Patients were apparently not satisfied with hospital facilities during the very first operations at the Netcare private academic hospital at Groote Schuur, after which they were apparently moved to Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital. Afterwards operations were apparently extended to Johannesburg and Durban hospitals.
Netcare meanwhile issued a statement on Saturday in which it referred to reports about the cross-border kidney operations that were performed between 2001 and 2003 at three Netcare hospitals in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, as well as certain state hospitals in Johannesburg and Cape Town.
The National Prosecuting Authority on Saturday requested that Netcare no longer give comment to the media and it decided to comply.
Botha said on Sunday that no state hospitals in the Western Cape were involved, but that the Netcare private section of the Groote Schuur hospital complex was involved.
The Western Cape is known worldwide for surgical safaris, which are apparently sold as popular tourist packages.
"We have some of the world's best physicians here and our region is a popular health destination. There is much responsibility that comes with this," said Botha. "At the end of the day it is about the safety of patients for us and with that also ethical integrity."
According to Netcare's statement, it is working closely with the investigating team and prosecuting authority. Netcare stopped its independent investigation into cross-border transplants in 2004 after being requested to do so by the investigative and prosecuting team.
The Netcare board had requested an investigation into the operations "which were performed at several Netcare hospitals" but was told that it could disadvantage the police investigation. According to Netcare, police had taken their files and documents in 2003 and had still not returned them.
"Netcare is stunned that illegal operations were performed at its facilities and will not support any of the actions of its staff if they are found to be illegal," read the statement.