Extensive kidney trading involving impoverished Filipinos and prisoners - who sell their organs for paltry sums to syndicates catering mostly to foreign clients - has been reported by the local media in recent years. A temporary ban on kidney transplants involving foreigners was recently imposed.
China and Pakistan, among the world's biggest sources of kidneys, have taken steps to outlaw the sale of human organs, and desperate foreigners may be prompted to increasingly turn to the Philippines for kidneys, Health Secretary Francisco Duque said.
"The poor always end up as the ones being abused," he said, adding kidney transplants for foreigners have risen in recent years. "The sale of one's body parts is condemnable and ethically improper. We have to stop it."
The sale of organs is illegal in the Philippines. The ban - intended to protect poor Filipinos from exploitation - will prohibit foreigners from getting donated kidneys unless they can prove a donor is related to them by blood, Duque said.
He said the ban was endorsed by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and will take effect in about three weeks. Kidney donations among Filipinos will continue but will be strictly monitored by a new regulatory body, he said.
Social Welfare Secretary Esperanza Cabral said at least 500 kidney transplants involving foreign patients were conducted last year in the Philippines.
The kidney trade, often in the guise of donations, has long thrived in the country in secrecy, fostered by syndicates that lure the poor to sell their kidneys to foreigners, mostly from Japan, Europe and the Middle East, officials say.
Local TV networks have shown footage of Manila slums where virtually all men bore kidney surgery scars after selling their kidneys for about $4,760 each.
Cabral has said a permanent ban on kidney transplants for foreigners can help authorities more easily eradicate the thriving black market.
She said 109 poor villagers in three townships southeast of Manila sold their kidneys to Israelis and other Middle Eastern visitors last year.
Many Philippine donors have developed ailments such as urinary tract infections and high blood pressure linked to the transplants because of a lack of post-operation care, Cabral said.