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Transplant Surgery Abroad Rife With Risks

Researchers Find Higher Rates of Rejection, Infection; Cite Lack of Proper Controls Abroad


The buying and selling of human tissue is illegal in the United States, but it's not unlawful for people to go abroad to buy organs, Lipshutz says.

"It's a big risk for people who go abroad, but it's also a big ethical issue," Lipshutz tells WebMD, adding that it's likely some organs transplanted overseas come from prisoners.

In a news release accompanying the study, the researchers say the higher incidence of infectious complications in those who went abroad "may reflect a number of issues related to tourism, including difficulties maintaining and monitoring immunosuppression during the transition of care."

Other factors for poorer outcomes include "the lack of preventive care for infections early after transplantation, the varying infectious disease characteristics of different countries, and the unclear means of selecting donors in many of these cases," it says.

The researchers could not determine how many tourists received kidneys from vendors. Some received kidneys from deceased humans, and at least two from blood relatives.

"Most of those people are desperate to be off dialysis," Lipshutz says, "so they go overseas."

Allan Kirk, MD, of Emory University in Atlanta, says the study clearly showed the danger of overseas transplants.

"Moving to an environment that is just sewing a kidney in doesn't take advantage of a multidisciplinary team approach" patients need, Kirk says.

Kidney transplantation isn't "thoroughly vetted" overseas as it is in the U.S., he says.

About 20 million Americans have some evidence of chronic kidney disease and are at risk of developing kidney failure, according to the American Society of Nephrology. Some 485,000 Americans require ongoing treatment, such as dialysis.

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