Four people been arrested in Pakistan suspected of extracting spinal fluid from women without their consent and selling it on the black market, police say.
The gang member pretended to be government officials carrying out medical research in the city of Hafizabad. They are accused of stealing the fluid from at least 12 women including a teenager.
The top-selling Urdu-language newspaper, Jang, said the accused had extracted fluid from at least 90 impoverished women – many of whom were left disabled by the procedure.
The four were arrested after the father of a 17-year-old woman informed police that a sample had been taken from his daughter by people who said claimed they were employees of a hospital.
The were alleged to have said that they needed the spinal fluid to conduct a medical check-up. They are also alleged to have told other victims that told the samples were needed to qualify for financial assistance from the Punjab provincial government.
It is not clear how the spinal fluid would have been used on the black market – one theory is that it is valued because it helps to diagnose diseases such as cancer and meningitis.
Police have suggested that in the case the fluid – obtained by inserting a needle through the vertebrae – may have been so sought-after because it was wanted by homeopaths in a country where medical supplies of all descriptions are often not easy to obtain.
One member of the gang was reported by the BBC to have gone ‘posing as an employee of the District Headquarters Hospital, telling his victims they would need to provide blood samples in order to qualify for the Punjab government’s dowry fund’.
‘But instead of taking them to the hospital to obtain their ‘blood samples’, he would take them to the house of a female member of the gang to perform the procedure,’ it quoted a police officer as saying.
Spinal fluid is a transparent liquid found around the brain and spinal cord that protects people from trauma and injury. It is normally only taken to help diagnose disease in an individual.
All four members of the gang – three men and a woman – are now being interrogated, media reports say, and because the teenager was stripped naked for the procedure, they could also face sexual abuse charges.
Hafizabad has been in the past notorious as a haven organ traffickers – Pakistan outlawed the commercial trade in human body parts in 2010.
One of the accused was reported by Geo.tv as saying they would have received about £300 if they were able to get 15 samples of spinal fluid, nut in the event they only managed to get 12 samples.