The Booming Illegal Organ Trafficking in Africa

Illegal organ trafficking involves the coercion or manipulation of people (usually women and children) to give up their organs, which are then sold in the black market at huge prices.

In 2013, the British press released very disturbing news of a young girl who had been trafficked from her country, Somalia to the UK where her organs would be harvested illegally. Thanks to the knowledge and awareness that organ traffickers were very much in existence and ran their trafficking business on a daily basis, an underground ring was exposed. More so, not only did this gruesome news cause an international furor at that time, there was a massive condemnation of the agencies responsible.

The case of this young Somalian girl creates an image of what human trafficking has evolved into over the years. Her story entails the illegal removal of important organs in the human body like the kidney, lungs, etc. The main factor fueling this illegal action is caused by an acute shortage across the world and the ever-increasing demand for these organs by patients.

According to Global Financial Integrity, about 10% of organ donations are made through illegal means.

The business of illegal organ trafficking is sponsored and engaged in by prominent politicians, big business people, medical practitioners such as doctors, nurses, and even the police making it a well-oiled international racket. The World Health Organization estimates the illegal organ trade (which is called “the red market”) to be worth over $1 billion every year.

As a result of the porous borders, weak laws and enforcement, and high poverty rate in some countries in the continent, Africa is the top and most lucrative market for international buyers in illegal trade. There are different stories of agents targeting vulnerable people with offers to international buyers in pitching tents in conflict zones of Africa.  It is believed that where there are poor people, there are organ dealers. For vital organs like the kidney, liver, or heart, an organ buyer spends about $150,000.

Thousands of people (mostly Africans) are tricked or drugged and their organs are harvested without their consent and knowledge. However, in the case where the person willingly wishes to donate an organ, such person usually gets about $5,000. The middleman in the deal equally gets their own share. For that amount of money, desperate Africans are easily manipulated into trading their organs.

With approximately 7,000 kidneys harvested and trafficked illegally each year, the kidney is known to be the most trafficked organ in the world. This is due to the fact that a patient or donor can survive with only one of them.

Another factor fanning this illegal trade is the recent migration of Africans to Europe. When a migrant is unable to raise the money, which is required for their journey across the Mediterranean Sea, they are usually forced to give up their organs in exchange. This explains why some of the largest markets in Africa are in Egypt and Libya. Also, some migrants who are not able to get jobs or fend for themselves are being sold for their organs.


In Egypt, the standard price paid to a person whose organ is about to be harvested is approximately $23,000. Egypt falls among the category of the top five largest markets for illegal organs in the world.

Meanwhile, in South Africa, there is barely a sign of this illegal trade coming to a stop. For International patients keen on getting illegal organ transplant, South Africa happens to be an ideal destination. The majority of the customers encountered are patients from Brazil, Israel, and Eastern Europe forming the bulk of the customers.

Many graves in Nigeria and Lake Chad Basin have been excavated with bodies that were discovered to have missing organs. Today, experts believe that it is the lack of political will and corruption in the country that will keep the trade in continuity regardless of condemnation from the masses.