Six charged in organ trafficking case at Brno hospital

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Between 2003 and 2004, five employees of the tissue bank at the Brno-Bohunice hospital, together with one outsider, sold 7 million crowns worth of skin graft to a Dutch company. The Organized Crime Squad of the Czech police have now finished investigating the case and charged the persons involved with illegal organ trafficking.

It took the Czech police three and a half years to close the case of illegal organ trafficking at a hospital in Brno, Moravia. Two skin tissue specialists, three other staff members and one of their relatives have been charged with illegal organ trafficking, a crime punishable in the Czech Republic only since 2002. The police operation, code named "Human", the first of its kind in the country, targeted illegal sales of skin graft to a Dutch company. I asked Pavla Kopecka, the spokesperson for the Czech Police Headquarters, why the investigation took such a long time.

"The investigation as well as verification of the case was very complicated, especially when it came to financial transfers between the Czech Republic and the Netherlands. Cooperation with the Dutch authorities was smooth; there have only been delays that had to do with long distance and exchanging documents. It would have been a lot swifter if the case had been limited to the Czech Republic. But on the whole, the Dutch side has been highly cooperative."

In the Czech Republic, skin from dead persons cannot be used for transplants while in Holland and some other Western European countries, skin graft from dead donors is used as well. Five employees of the tissue bank at the Faculty Hospital in Brno -Bohunice saw this as a business opportunity not to be missed and sold 7 million crowns (more than 340,000 US dollars) worth of skin tissue to a skin bank based in the Netherlands. This was first discovered more than a year ago, and Anna Nesvadbova, the spokeswoman for the Faculty Hospital in Brno, says a lot has changed at the tissue bank since then.

"First of all, the top management of the tissue bank gave up their management posts, so everything has changed at the top. Also, in December 2005, the tissue bank obtained an ISO certificate which means that all the processes and transplants are under very precise control so we know very well what is happening with transplants from the beginning till they are delivered to the recipients."

While at least one of the accused is facing up to five years in jail, three of them still work for the hospital as they cannot be dismissed under the Czech labour law.

Despite the successful crack down on the skin graft traffickers in Brno, illegal trade with human organs, especially kidneys, is a major issue in Europe. Patients from richer countries can easily afford buying organs from donors in Eastern Europe. Ms Ruth-Gaby Vermot-Mangold is the president of the human trafficking commission of the Council of Europe.

"Our countries have to do more. There is no right to have a new organ. The organizations involved in transplanting in Switzerland, in Western Europe, in rich countries, have to say that people must donate their organs. I think we need more people who are able and willing to donate their organs after they die. We need more people to do this."