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EXPLAINER: Ekweremadu’s daughter – What the law says about organ donation in Nigeria

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ON MONDAY, Sonia, the daughter of the embattled former Nigerian deputy senate president, Ike Ekweremadu, took to her Instagram page to beg members of the public to donate a kidney to her.

The 25-year-old lady, whose parents are currently facing charges of organ harvesting in the United Kingdom, made a passionate appeal to Nigerians to save her life.

Sonia disclosed that she had to drop out of the university after she was diagnosed with a rare kidney disease.


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She added that the charges against her parents were connected to her health predicament.

She wrote, “I am 25 years old and a graduate of Media and Communications, University of Coventry. I dropped out of my post-graduate studies at the University of Newcastle in 2019 when I was diagnosed with a rare kidney disease, FSGS Nephrotic Syndrome.

“My family has battled to save my life and has taken me to various hospitals, but the illness persisted and kept degenerating. I am alive today by the special grace of God.

“I am presently in London, UK, receiving five hours of dialysis three to four times a week. This is at the expense of my family as I am not qualified for NHS due to my immigration status.

“The last three years have been extremely challenging. The charges being faced by my parents in London presently, are directly connected to my illness and have complicated matter for me and my family.”

Sonia explained she was seeking help from members of the public because comprehensive medical examination had shown that her nephrotic syndrome was a genetic illness and the doctors had advised against donation from any of her family members, as the disease would likely reoccur.

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“In the time that my father has been incarcerated, he has been diagnosed with acute kidney damage,” she stated.

She was quick to inform potential donors that under the laws of England and Wales, organ donation must be purely driven by compassion and, therefore, there would be no reward involved.

What does the law in Nigeria say on organ donation?

Section 51 of the National Health Act 2014 prohibits the provision of organ transplant services except in a duly authorised hospital and with the written permission of the medical practitioner in charge of clinical services at the hospital. The National Tertiary Hospital Commission was empowered to develop criteria for the approval of organ transplant facilities and the procedure for securing such approval.

Similarly, only duly qualified and registered medical and dental practitioners are authorised to render transplantation services. Furthermore, the National Health Act by section 53 prohibits any form of commercialisation of human organs. It is an offence punishable with imprisonment of a fine (or both) for a person ‘who has donated tissue to receive any form of financial or other rewards for such donation’ or ‘to sell or trade-in tissue’.

However, the Act exempts reimbursements for reasonable costs incurred by a donor in connection with organ donation. More significantly, the Act establishes two sources of organs for transplant: living and cadaveric donors.

A team of medical experts in Transplant and Nephrology, who are Fellows of the Academy of Medicine Specialties, led by Olayiwola Shittu of the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, stated that the process must not involve any element of coercion of financial inducement.

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Shittu said the process requires “a close multidisciplinary collaboration between the surgeons, physicians and psychologists/psychiatrists to ensure that the patient and the donor are in the best frame of mind and have agreed to it.”

He said, “We only practice living donor transplantation in Nigeria, especially of solid organ like the kidney. The donor is interviewed independently and assessed for suitability and fitness for organ donation.

“There should be no element of coercion or even inducement. Organ donation is completely altruistic, voluntary, and no reward except the satisfaction that someone has been helped. All these elements must be evident in the interview.

“The psychiatrist would assess the patient for mental fitness as well. The patient and the donor are then assessed for organ compatibility.”

He also added that organ purchase and sale, and forceful harvest of organs were not currently allowed in Nigeria.

He said, “The practice of organ transplantation relies heavily on medical ethics that enunciates respect for autonomy, beneficence, non-maleficence and justice because there is no codified legal framework.

“In Ibadan, we sometimes ask the donor to obtain an affidavit to confirm the relationship and the fact that he/she has not been coerced in any way.”

On what to do so that recipients, donors, and sponsors do not run foul of the laws, locally and internationally, Shittu said the doctors should provide guidance in this respect: “The processes of transparent and extensive discussions are held between the recipient, donor, doctors and relatives. Besides, the onus is on the doctors to ensure that the transplantation is desirable, the donor is suitable, and both recipient and donor are well informed. Necessary papers are available to sign. Underage donors are discouraged. The National Health Bill provisions are, however, not robust enough on this matter.”

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