When we hear news about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, we think of it as a prosperous country, but some people there are desperately poor and some of them are selling their kidneys to make money, since you can survive with just one.

Iran is the only country where the selling and buying of kidneys is legal. In the Guardian, Saeed Kamali Dehghan describes the case of a widow selling her kidney in order to pay for her daughter’s dowry, so she can marry. He quotes her as saying, "It is getting too late for my daughter to marry–her moment has already passed."

In order to advertise that she has a kidney to sell, this widow has written her blood type and her phone number on pieces of paper and has posted them along the street close to several of Tehran’s major hospitals, where most kidney transplant operations takes place. There is fierce competition: All along these streets, one can see similar notices–some of them written in big letters or in bright colors to attract attention; some even sprayed like graffiti on walls. All of them contain the cell phone number of the potential donor. After the transplant takes place, the seller is paid by both the government and the recipient.

In the US, more than 100,000 people are on the waiting list for kidney transplants, and .since 1999, more than 30,000 US patients with kidney failure have died waiting for an organ. In contrast to this, in 2010, a total of 2,285 kidney transplants took place in Iran, of which 1,690 kidneys were supplied from volunteers and 595 from those clinically brain-dead.

Are any of these kidneys illegally smuggled to the West? So far, no one knows.

In comparison, in Pakistan, organ trafficking is illegal but still occurs. Dehghan quotes US transplant nephrologist Benjamin Hippen as saying, "It seems to me that if Iran had not developed a system of incentives, the situation there today would look very much like the state of affairs in countries such as Pakistan."

The only thing that may solve this problem may be stem cell research that will enable us to re-grow a kidney if we need one.

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