CHANGZHOU, China, May 7 (UPI) -- Police raided four suspected organ-trafficking rings in eastern China Monday, rescuing 20 young men whose kidneys were about to be harvested, officials said.
Police in Changzhou said they arrested 16 suspects, the Shanghai Daily reported Tuesday.
The newspaper said one of the rings, allegedly run by a man with the surname Wei, had advertised online looking for people needing money. The ring operators allegedly arranged for health checks for those willing to part with a kidney, and then used the Internet to contact buyers and transplant surgeons, police said.
One of the kidney donors was to have been sent to Indonesia for the surgery, the newspaper said.
About 1.5 million Chinese need organ transplants each year, but the shortage of donor organs means fewer than 1 percent of those people receive them. The high demand has created a cash-infused black market in which young people are enticed into giving up one of their kidneys.
The Daily said there have been reports of youths getting only enough money for an iPad or iPhone, with most of the money that changes hands going to agents and others in the supply chain.
Chinese Vice Health Minister Huang Jiefu wrote recently an estimated 65 percent of legal transplant operations in China involve organs from deceased donors -- often executed prisoners -- with the remaining 35 percent of organs coming from living donors that go to relatives.
"Unfortunately, due to extreme demand for the organs, limited supply and huge profits, an illegal trade in human organs from living donors has emerged in China," Huang wrote.