Iranians sell kidneys on Instagram to survive economic hardship

Social media users are also offering bone marrow, livers and corneas on social media

An Iraqi vendor sells Iranian currency in a street in Najaf on August 14, 2018. - Iraqis in the holy city of Najaf are being hit hard by US sanctions on neighbouring Iran, which have forced cash-strapped pilgrims to stay home. (Photo by Haidar HAMDANI / AFP)
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Iran’s crumbling economy has pushed many to drastic measures to make ends meet, with increasing numbers of people selling body parts to survive.

On a well-known street near Tehran's Valiasr Square, walls are littered with signs advertising organs for sale, with sellers listing their blood type, age and phone number next to listings for livers, kidneys and corneas.

Keyhan, 39, said he “can’t count” how many people have contacted him to buy his kidney, which he has advertised on Twitter, Instagram and Telegram, where some organ-selling channels have tens of thousands of subscribers.

The former construction worker said he has been unable to make ends meet since losing money in a construction deal involving fake land plots.

“It was a really hard decision to make, but unfortunately I had no choice,” he told The National from his home in western Iran.

He says he will undertake medical tests once a buyer has been found and agree on a final price.

“What is the solution? Those who sell their kidney or liver are at the end of their lifeline and have no other choice.”

Iran is the only country in the world where selling a kidney in legal.

Since the 1980s, the government has offered a fixed payment of 10 million rials (about $236) and subsidised health insurance to donors it matches with a person in need of a transplant, but many people head to the black market to bid for a better price.

While some charities try to discourage poorer people from selling their organs, financial help is limited and not sufficient to dissuade many from taking the plunge.

According to a survey shared with The National by Mohammad Reza Farzanegan, an economist at the University of Marburg, 10 per cent of households in Iran have fallen into poverty since 2011.

Meanwhile, Iran likely exceeded its inflation record of 49 per cent in recent months, a recent report from The Financial Times showed.

In May, Tehran's judiciary hit out at “false reports” published by several local media outlets which noted a rise in black market organ sales due to economic difficulties.

“I am in debt and my life is about to be destroyed. My family sympathise but in reality they do nothing [to stop me],” said Keyhan.

“I have been trying to sell my organs for more than four years. I have worked very hard to sell them, but it hasn't happened. I don’t know why.

“I am scared, but life’s problems don't allow me to be scared. Selling my kidney is the last resort.”

The World Health Organisation opposes organ sales, arguing all purchase and selling of organs and tissue should be banned.

Sima, 30, has been trying to sell her kidney for the past month to make ends meet.

She said the economic situation has forced her to advertise her kidney on Telegram.

“I don’t want my family to live in poverty like me. I want my brother and sister to go to school and study without worrying about money,” she explained.

“It’s difficult for people to buy basic necessities, like clothes and food. Ten per cent of people can’t afford to buy clothes, and the price of a chicken rises by 20,000 tomans [$5] in six hours.”

Another seller, Mohammed, 25, has also advertised his liver, kidney and bone marrow for sale on Telegram.

He told The National the economic situation, coupled with losing his job, pushed him to put up an advertisement a month ago.

“I have no other choice. What else should I do?”

Updated: July 14, 2023, 3:23 AM