Bangladeshi police said on Tuesday they had uncovered a major organ trafficking ring that is believed to have persuaded up to 200 people to sell their kidneys for cash.
Three people were arrested Sunday in the remote Kalai area, 300 kilometres northwest of Dhaka, after reports surfaced that villagers were having their organs removed illegally.
"We have found that scores of poor villagers have sold their kidneys for 150,000 to 200,000 taka (2,000 to 3,000 dollars)," local district police chief Fazlul Karim told AFP.
"Some 38 villagers from five villages in the area have sold their kidneys for cash, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. We believe there could be up to 200 victims," he said.
The police investigation has found that in some families in the area, which is one of the most impoverished regions of Bangladesh, four or five people had sold their kidneys, he said.
The probe has been extended to Dhaka as investigators suspect that the organ trafficking gang includes doctors, nurses and businessmen working in the capital, he said.
"The three people we arrested are only low-level operators. Two of them had even sold their kidneys and then become part of the gang," he said.
"It is only natural to assume medical professionals are involved," he said, adding that the gang was suspected of selling organs to patients in Singapore and India.
Some of the affected villagers had become ill after their operations, he said.
Under Bangladeshi law, kidney transplants are allowed only if the organ is donated by a blood relative or spouse.