02/15/2018, 18.35
PAKISTAN
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Spinal fluid theft from unsuspecting women in Punjab is a crime against humanity

by Shafique Khokhar

Police arrested four people in connection with phoney blood samples taken from at least 12 women. The criminals promised government medical assistance but instead took advantage of the victims’ poverty.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – A criminal gang in Punjab stole spinal fluid from poor women, unaware that they were undergoing a delicate medical operation, and sold it on the black market. Police discovered the scam and arrested four people.

The criminals were active in the Hafizabad area ​​ and took advantage of their victims’ poverty, and enrolled in a phoney government-funded medical assistance programme.

Various health care specialists spoke to AsiaNews about the issue. “This is a crime against humanity,” said Dr Ammar Aslam, Services Hospital Lahore. “It’s sad to see human organs and parts stolen but what is to be determined is who the clients are and who is buying this stuff from them”.

According to police who broke up the gang, at least 12 women were the victims of the deception, including a teenager. In fact, the scam came to light after the father of a 17-year-old woman noticed that she was very weak after what he thought was a medical examination.

The crooks tricked the victims by telling them that they were just going to provide a blood sample, said regional police officer Ashfaq Ahmed Khan. But instead of taking them to the hospital, they were brought to the home of a female gang member to have spinal fluid removed.

“Stealing spinal fluid is a new scam in our country,” said Aslam Masih, deputy head of the Lay Camillian Family, a Catholic NGO. “In Pakistan,’ he explained, “30 per cent of the population (about 59 million people) lives below the poverty line. Only an experienced surgeon can perform a similar procedure. This is why those arrested should not be treated as ordinary criminals."

The Catholic association has been working in rural Punjab since 2001. It raises awareness about the risks of illegal medical practices, and its employees visit the sick and organises free medical camps.

Last year it set up three such camps in the Okara district, providing screening and free medical drugs for the poor.

“Even in our medical missions, we only prick fingers to get a few drops of blood,” Aslam Masih said. “The government should expand its search to break up this network of murderers”.

For Dr Bilal Ahmad, it is unclear “what the purpose of this gang was. If the quantity [of spinal fluid] increases above a certain level, it can lead to permanent paralysis and even death. The needle can damage the hindbrain. Media and government health facilities should raise awareness.”

“This is worse than organ trafficking,” said Cecil Shane Chaudhry, executive director of the National Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan. “We demand a thorough investigation. Those responsible should be taken to task.”

Hamza Arshad, writer, researcher and activist, believes that the case "shows the bankruptcy of [Pakistani] society. People want to become rich overnight. Many gangs act with impunity.”

"Some make porn movies of children; others extract kidneys; and still others are involved in land frauds and forged documents."

"All these vile actions take place under the sun,” he laments, “and now this scandal.” In his view, “It is due to a weak justice system and institutional flaws.” Sadly, “The poor fall prey to false promises, often with dangerous consequences ".

(Kamran Chaudhry contributed to this article)

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