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Misleading article on kidney trafficking

Dear Editor,

I am writing in reference to your recent story on kidney trafficking (‘Organ traffickers’ arrested, May 26).

The article implies that it is fundamentally dangerous to donate a kidney, and quotes the chief of dialysis at Preah Ket Mealea Hospital in Phnom Penh as saying that people who have only one kidney struggle to filter toxins from their blood.

In fact, it is not particularly dangerous to live with one kidney. Many people are born with a single kidney, and many others donate kidneys and live normal, healthy, and long lives.

The remaining kidney grows larger to compensate, and takes over the functioning of the lost kidney with almost no discernible difference in the rate or efficacy of blood filtration.

When done properly on a healthy patient, the operation to remove a kidney is no more risky than childbirth.

Moreover, the head of a dialysis centre, who might not even be a nephrologist, is not necessarily an impartial source of information on kidney donation.

Even in the US, a country with an extensive transplant programme, journalists have documented staff at dialysis centres discouraging patients with kidney disease from receiving transplants, due to their financial interest in keeping patients on dialysis as long as possible.

There are obviously many potential dangers in participating in an illegal multinational organ trafficking scheme; this is what the article should have focused on.

Despite the generally low risk of complications, kidney donation is a major operation that should be undertaken only by well-trained surgeons, and donors need to receive appropriate follow-up care and education on renal health.

Misinformation like the comments in your article is part of the reason why there is not a more robust culture of voluntary blood and organ donation in Cambodia.

Julia Wallace
Phnom Penh

Editor’s Note: The full quote, referred to above, from Preah Ket Mealea Hospital Chief of Hemodialysis Dr Chy Tith, reads: “When [those with one kidney] fall ill, for example, with high blood pressure or urinary problems, it’s very hard for one kidney to absorb all the [toxins in the blood].”

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