Posts for category ‘Uncategorized’

Meeting Natasha: The Scout
| August 14, 2010 | 12:26 am

The second of eight posts that will appear simultaneously at the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting which helped fund my research.

Published on August 13, 2010
Natasha flashes an inviting smile in my direction and bows her head slightly when she shakes my hand. Pretty at thirty-five, she’s the first face that patients see when they get off the plane to receive and egg donation. She ferries customers to and from the airport and helps ease their cultural transition from abroad. As a medical coordinator her skills are in demand, but it’s not just because of her hospitality. For the less public side of her job she locates and recruits egg donors from wherever she can find them.

In country with an influx of legal and illegal Russian immigrants, she says that many women find themselves in a place where they have few other options to earn cash. “They start relationships with Cypriots who they meet on the Internet. They come and think that they are going to have a good life. Two or three months later they are no longer together and the girls find themselves helpless. She has no place to live, she has no job, and she has no visa to get a job.

For Russians now it is hard for them to get papers. She is in trouble. She starts to think where to get money. But she has her health, and she is quite beautiful,” she says to me in an upscale café on the Cypriot coast. These are the people who come to sell their eggs.

Natasha agreed to speak with me on three occasions on the condition that I would change her name and not mention the name of the specific clinic that she recruits for.

She tells me about her friend Doylana who came from Russia and was sleeping on friends floors because she had no way to get home. “She visited me and I told her about how she could make money selling her eggs. She gave them and then used the money to buy a plane ticket home.”

She says that donors earn between $1100-$1400 for their effort and pain, and while she says that the money can be a motivation, she isn’t sure what sort of risk it entails. “You would have to be stupid to do this several times?” she says, “Who knows how dangerous this is down the line?”

Whatever the risks, the money that clinics offer is enough attract an almost endless supply of Eastern European egg sellers. While not every clinic uses scouts, the situation is similar in both Cyprus and Spain. Small amounts of cash are incentive enough to attract only a certain low-income group of donors.

Scott Carney is an investigative journalist, his first book about the international trade in human bodies will appear in Harper Collins in 2011, see his updates at

The Cyprus Scramble: An investigation into human egg markets
| August 13, 2010 | 11:24 am

For the next week I am presenting a series of posts about the global trade in human eggs which will appear simultaneously at the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting which helped fund my research.

Dr Krinos Troukudes slaps his hand loudly on my back after I turn off my tape recorder and turn to make my way down the Pedieos Clinic’s dark stairwell. For the last hour we’ve been talking about the biological goldmine inside every woman’s uterus: human oocytes, or in common English, eggs. Clinics like his make a fortune selling eggs to infertile couples who will travel across the globe for a chance to get pregnant. Through a trick of favorable currency exchange and lax laws the island nation of Cyprus is one of the fastest expanding markets for human eggs. Here a full-service egg implantation costs between $8,000 and $14,000, where in the United States the price floats between $20,000 and $30,000. As he sees it, the only roadblock to becoming a baron of the market in human eggs is controlling a steady supply. “If you have the donors, you have everything,” he says. Everything.

When the first baby was born from a scientific IVF embryo transfer in a London hospital on July 25th, 1978, the market for human eggs took off like a jet plane. Birth control coupled with IVF means that women can delay having children until their professional careers are well under-way. In the last 32 years hundreds of thousands of children around the world have been born to donor eggs. While the miracle of assisted reproduction has changed the way the middle-and-upper classes view childbearing, behind the miracle of each birth is a hidden supply chain where eggs are procured by any means necessary.

Crimes in the egg trade are not hard to come by.

Between 1996 and 1999 and Israeli doctor named Zion Ben-Raphael began stealing eggs from his patients by doping them with hormones without their consent. In once case he stole 181 eggs from a single unknown donor and implanted them in 34 of his paying patients. In the course of his tenure 13 women were hospitalized because of the massive doses of hormones that he delivered triggered a dangerous conditions known as hyper-stimulation syndrome (HSS). Once the Israeli newspaper Haaertz reported on his spree he attempted to evade charges by bribing investigators. Shortly after the scandal, Israel banned all paid egg donation procedures.

Over the years similar crimes have been reported in Cyprus, Ukraine, Spain, Russia and most recently in Romania where a 16-year-old factory worker was in critical condition after she sold her eggs to an Israeli- run clinic. A government raid of the clinic last summer led to the arrest of 2 Israeli doctors who were offering fertility tours to Israeli patients who were unable to buy eggs domestically.

Most doctors and administrators believe that paying for a body part— including human eggs—creates a system that disproportionately draws raw materials from the bodies of the poor to sell them to the rich. In order to cut back on possible negative social consequences the European Union and the United States have laws that restrict commerce in human tissue. The only way to legally acquire a human egg (or kidney, liver, blood or cornea) is to receive it as a donation, so that money does not unduly influence the transaction. To do otherwise is considered tissue trafficking: An allegation that is the modern equivalent of slavery.

The United Kingdom outlawed even minimal compensation for egg donations in 2007, while simultaneously passing a law that made it possible for children born to donor eggs to be able to track down their genetic parents when they reach eighteen. Many egg-donation advocates say that this one-two punch was the knockout blow for British IVF industry. Since the new laws the waiting list for an egg now stretches two years long. For women already cresting the upper limits of even assisted fertility, the restrictions feel a lot like an outright ban. And yet, most of Europe has passed, or is passing similar laws.

But there are a few holdouts in the European union. Cyprus and Spain have looser restrictions on IVF and have turned into destination spots for the reproduction industry.

In Cyprus, a country with fewer than one million people, there are now more fertility clinics per capita than any other place in the world. In the absence of a formal law to regulate egg selling, or even one that offers clear enforcement guidelines for what to do to clinics that violate ethical norms, Cyprus is something of the fertility industry’s wild west. So many people come here for egg donations that it seems to have caught the government by surprise and stretched its donor pool past the breaking point.

There are approximately 76,000 women in Cyprus between the ages of 18-30 who are eligible to become egg donors. Dr. Trokudes estimates that there at least 1,500 egg donations performed each year in the country’s dozen IVF centers. Some back of the envelope math indicates that approximately one in 50 eligible women have donated their eggs. It’s a startingly high number that dwarfs the comparable rates in America where one woman out of every 14,000 elects to donate their eggs.

Perhaps even more alarming, is that most of the egg donors in Cyprus come from a relatively small population of poor Eastern European immigrants who are eager to sell their eggs at a pittance. In January and February 2010 I visited a half dozen clinics and doctors in Cyprus, most of whose egg donors were of Ukrainian, Moldovan, Russian or Romanian descent. Several clinic directors told me that these women are favored because of their lighter complexion, eyes and hair color. British, German, Italian and American customers tend to favor children with Caucasian phenotypes. While no clinic gave me direct information on their donor registries, all said that Eastern Europeans represent the bulk of donors. There are approximately 30,000 Russians on the island nation and it’s possible that in this population the frequency of egg donors of eligible women is as high as 1 in 10.

For fertility clinics bent on increasing their market share of international patients, controlling and cultivating donors is the most crucial part of the business. During my research I found that clinics in both Spain and Cyprus have to play a difficult balancing act between meeting almost insatiable demand from abroad and the recruitment of donors. While many doctors strive to keep the industry safe and legal, internal contradictions in the language of cultivating egg donors makes the boom in international IVF a potential flash point for dangerous practices.

Scott Carney is an investigative journalist, his first book about the international trade in human bodies will appear in Harper Collins in 2011, see his updates at

This is the first post by Scott Carney in a series of dispatches on the human egg trade that will be featured on Untold Stories over the next week. Read his Fast Company article on the global egg trade.

Volunteers Needed
| July 7, 2010 | 7:45 am

In a strange way, this comic pretty much sums up the problems with Red Markets.

Bush Blames Foreign Fuel Subsidies for Gas Crisis. Forgets About America’s
| July 27, 2008 | 11:53 pm

Today the New York Times is running a story about how fuel subsidies on gasoline and diesel throughout the developing world are increasing the demand for oil, and raising the overall price of gas at the pump. The article seems critical of how governments in countries like Indonesia, India and China artificially lower the price of fuel in order to gain their economic footing on the world market. Citing BP, it says that developing world fuel subsidies account for 96% of the increase in fuel prices in the last year.

The problem is so rampant that ten days ago, on July 15th president Bush admonished the trend, saying,

“I am discouraged by the fact that some nations subsidize the purchases of product, like gasoline, which, therefore, means that demand may not be causing the market to adjust as rapidly as we’d like.”

But should the president of the largest fuel guzzling nation in the world, with some of the lowest fuel prices, really be targeting the developing world as the main culprit for the increased cost of gas? As newspaper headlines flash the seemingly absurd photos of pumps asking for $4 per gallon, many Americans feel that they are being unjustly punished for their morning commutes. But with a per-capita income of $44,000, and huge fuel subsidies of its own, the real cost of gas in America is the lowest of anywhere else in the world. In Europe it is common to pay $7 per gallon, and as a result there are massive subsidies for a top notch public transportation infrastructure.

In most cities in America, public transportation is, at best, a secondary option.

There are two petrol stations across the street from my house, each charging 55 rupees per liter of regular unleaded gas, or about $5.50 per gallon. Two weeks ago when a ship carrying diesel failed to dock in port on time, there was a major fuel shortage and some pumps charged as much as $10 per gallon. All of this in a country where the per-capita income is about $820 a year.

Why should the president of United States blame the modest fuel subsidies abroad, when the domestic subsidies at home are much more aggressive? How, can he, in good conscience, say that in a place where people earn 1/50 of an average American salary should actually pay more at the pump?

My suggestion to Bush is that if he wants to lower fuel consumption by increasing the price of gas, then he should start by increasing the price of gas at home.

[Link to NYT story], [photo Bitzcelt on Flickr]

Two Years in One Space
| May 30, 2008 | 5:59 am

For the last two years we have lived in our apartment in Kilpauk enjoying the near-constant sweet sounds of a busy intersection and occasional power cuts. When we first moved in we recorded a video of the place while my mother in law was visiting from the United States. Uploaded to YouTube, that video has been inexplicably popular fetching more than 20,000 views. By contrast, this entire website just passed 200,000 visitors this week. So, as a special treat, Padma and I thought we would update the video and show what two years has done to the place. We’ve weathered a small fire, a rent increase, and some modest redecorating in the time.

First up: What it looked like in 2006:

Today’s Apartment:

Hello, Indian Helicopter
| July 16, 2007 | 12:07 am

I really can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked down a crowded tourist streets and a rickshaw driver pulls up next to me in a bumble-bee colored taxi pod and says “Hello, Indian Helicopter”? It’s a pretty lame way to entice some to visit an emporium, after the burping and sputtering rickshaws are nothing like helicopter rides. But it must work on some people. Indeed one rickshaw-wallah in Mumbai has taken the sales pitch to the next level and modded his shaw for maximum tourist bilking.

I wonder if I would jump in if this guy pulled up next to me. I’d like to think that I would.

Link via Calamur on Flickr and Neatorama

Calcutta’s Graveyard Gang Steals Skeletons
| April 23, 2007 | 10:31 pm

CNN had a report today about a team of grave robbers outside of Calcutta who have been stealing skeletons from graveyards and burning ghats and selling them to medical students and traditional healers.

Responding to a complaint about missing bodies the police happened upon what they are calling a “bone factory”.

Jayalalithaa as Napoleon
| March 27, 2007 | 1:05 am

This painting was hanging in the background of the Stree Sharira conference last week and I have to say that I wish I commanded the sort of money it would take to buy it. The painting is of Jayalalithaa–the recurring chief minister of Tamil Nadu–dressed as Napoleon Bonaparte.

Flying Home For Christmas, My Mother Doesn’t Know
| December 26, 2006 | 12:31 pm

At four in the morning a small taxi with a betel-chewing driver honked his horn for continuously spurring me into action. I sloughed on my shoes and headed out the door for what was going to be the longest Christmas ever. 36 hours of Christmas to be exact.

Over the course of my trip, I have managed two ten hour flights, a seven hour layover in the London airport where Santa-clad barmen where happy to dispense my first Guinness in almost a year and a long rambling conversation on African politics with someone who turned out to be the Princess of Zambia, and arrived just in time to surprised my mother on Christmas evening. I’m writing these few lines while still on the plane, so I’m not entirely sure if there is a heaping plate of christmas leftovers waiting on the dining room table or if we might be able to manage a midnight dash to Arby’s on the way home.

For the last month since I bought my ticked I have been hiding from my mother online so that I don’t spoil the surprise when I show up on her doorstep unannounced. The I have been telling her is that I have been called down to write an article in Pondicherry about state of the art solar panels designed by spiritually empowered Aurovillians. When she has asked me when I might be able to make it to the states next my answers have been vague–“perhaps this, or next summer,”

So suffice it to say, when I walk through the door in about two hours from now, I expect her to be quite surprised. Last night Padma scolded me “You are going to make your mother cry.”

next up, watch my mom’s reaction as I walk through the door…

India’s Techno Trash Heap
| November 13, 2006 | 12:45 pm

This story came out in August of this year in .net magazine the UK, but it has taken forever for it to get online. I had always heard about E-Waste disposal but never knew how bad it was until I scoured the dumps behind Central Station. Special thanks to my mother-in-law Indira Govindan who helped me traipse through ankle deep mud and chemical waste in search of scrap dealers.

A dark concoction of grease, dirt and sweat on Mohan’s screwdriver made it difficult to grip the handle as he pried the copper coil loose from an old computer motor. Finally, with a grunt and a twist of his wrist, the wire broke and he unwound his bounty like silk from a spool of thread. In the age of globalisation where everything takes on a glossy sheen, Mohan is one man in a legion of morticians who attend to the last days of obsolete computer systems, appliances and gadgets. He turns them into gold.

“You know where he comes from?” his co-worker asks me while he gums a burnt cigar. “That bastard’s family used to climb trees for a living. He’s lucky to find a job working here with us.” Despite doing the same basic job, the scrap workers in this Chennai slum still make it a point to reinforce centuries-old caste hierarchies.

E-waste is a politely coined term that encompasses a wide variety of non-functional techn trash. It’s a growing problem in Asia. From the date of purchase, just about every electronic product sold on the planet begins a steady progression towards obsolescence. No matter how slick a device it was on the shelf of your local computer store, it will eventually become just one more piece in a mountain of useless keyboards, computers, mobile phones, game systems, televisions and countless other items. . .

Read the rest at .net magazine.