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The Long Wait ... Dying for Lack of Kidneys

It was hardly surprising when a Dutch TV network decided to brave a Europe-wide storm of controversy this month and air a TV reality show featuring a dying woman offering her kidney for transplant . From Chile to China, tens of thousands of kidney sufferers pinning their hopes on donated organs face waits of three to four years -- when they survive.

Eight Mexicans die a day hankering for organ transplants, and even in wealthier Europe, 10 deaths are registered daily for want of a donor. With demand outstripping supply, and medical red-tape differing from one country to the next, transplant tourism and trafficking in human body parts are rife -- areas under scrutiny by trade and ethical watchdogs.

The Dutch reality show, bagged for poor taste and questionable ethics, finally turned out to be a do-good publicity stunt -- an actress had been hired to play the part of the terminally-ill woman and the organisers said the aim was to spotlight the global shortage of organ donors. The strategy worked. The show attracted 1.2 million viewers and that same day 12,000 people in The Netherlands applied to donate body parts. "We worked on this stunt for a year," said Laurens Drillich, director of BNN channel, whose founder died waiting for a kidney transplant.

"We received a lot of international attention for a problem that does really exist." Oscar-winning Stephen Frears highlighted the drama of organ trafficking from poor to rich in his 2002 "Dirty Pretty Things," and Pedro Almodovar's Oscar-trophied "All About My Mother", touching on transplants, goes on stage in London's Old Vic in September.

But despite several transplant-themed prime-time Brazilian TV soaps, with titles such as "From Body to Soul," and an excellent website (ww.adote.org.br) aimed at drumming up donors, at the end of 2006 a total 66,019 people were still kicking their heels awaiting transplants in the South American country. Of these, 32,155 needed new
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