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Kidney selling is a global phenomenon engraved by poverty and governance in low-income countries with the higher-income countries functioning as recipients and the lower-income countries as donors. Over the years, an increasing number of residents in a village near the capital city of Nepal have sold their kidneys. This study aims to explore the drivers of kidney selling and its consequences using ethnographic methods and multi-stakeholder consultations. An ethnographic approach was used in which the researcher lived and observed the residents’ life and carried out formal and informal interactions including in-depth interviews with key informants, community members and kidney sellers in Hokse village, Kavrepalanchok district. Participants in the village were interacted by researchers who resided in the village. In addition, remote interviews were conducted with multiple relevant stakeholders at various levels that included legal workers, government officers, non-government organization (NGO) workers, medical professionals, and policymaker. All formal interviews were audio-recorded for transcription in addition to field notes and underwent thematic analysis. The study identified processes, mechanisms, and drivers of kidney selling. Historically, diversion of a major highway from the village to another village was found to impact the livelihood, economy and access to the urban centres, ultimately increasing poverty and vulnerability for kidney selling. Existing and augmented deprivation of employment opportunities were shown to foster emigration of villagers to India, where they ultimately succumbed to brokers associated with kidney selling. Population in the village also maintained social cohesion through commune living, social conformity (that had a high impact on decision making), including behaviours that deepened their poverty. Behaviours such as alcoholism, trusting and following brokers based on the persuasion and decision of their peers, relatives, and neighbours who became the new member of the kidney brokerage also contributed to kidney selling. The other reasons that may have influenced high kidney selling were perceived to be a poor level of education, high demands of kidneys in the market and an easy source of cash through selling. In Hokse village, kidney selling stemmed from the interaction between the brokers and community members’ vulnerability (poverty and ignorance), mainly as the brokers raised false hopes of palliating the vulnerability. The decision-making of the villagers was influenced heavily by fellow kidney sellers, some of whom later joined the network of kidney brokers. Although sustained support in livelihood, development, and education are essential, an expanding network and influence of kidney brokers require urgent restrictive actions by the legal authority.

Original publication




Journal article


PLOS Global Public Health


Public Library of Science (PLoS)

Publication Date





e0000585 - e0000585