Inside China’s human placenta black market where traders risk disease

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Human placentas continue to be sold illegally on China's black market, a new investigation has found.

Some people believe fresh placenta (the organ that nourishes a foetus) contains healing properties, and will either cook and eat it or process it into a powder and sell it.

Placenta, known as ziheche in traditional Chinese medicine, is thought to treat illnesses like tuberculosis as well as helping those with weak immune systems or aid in reproductive health.

There has been a crackdown on the trade in recent years, with China's Ministry of Health prohibiting the sale of human placentas in 2005. However there is no law against selling drugs made from placenta and no stipulations on the origin of the material.

A report found the illegal placenta trade is primarily based in Bozhou in Anhui, Pizhou in Jiangsu, and Yongcheng in Henan.

Traders collect placenta at around 80 yuan (£8.80) each from hospitals, medical waste plants and even funeral homes despite this being a major health risk. The lack of regulations means there's no checks on whether the organs may contain viruses such as hepatitis B, HIV, or syphilis.

"If the mother has got infectious diseases, the placenta will also carry the virus," obstetrician Lin Xiu told local media.

"Conventional cooking methods can not kill those viruses. Only like the steamed disinfection used in hospitals to disinfect surgery equipment can do (that)."

"So eating fresh human placenta might possibly make you infected with diseases. It's dangerous for health."

One man told ABS CBN he's been selling human placentas for 25 years and that his family processed 130,000 of the organs last year, earning roughly 5 yuan (55p) per placenta.

Another said it used to be easy to obtain placentas from hospital, but since the crackdown traders have had to turn to medical waste disposal plants or paying hospital staff to grab the organs.

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Online shopping platform Taobao sells placenta from a boy for 480 yuan (£52) and 450 yuan (£49) for placenta from a girl, owing to the ancient cultural belief that placentas that have fed baby boys have stronger health benefits.

One online seller said many of their customers make the placenta into soup.

Official Ministry of Health policy is that a placenta is owned by the woman who has given birth. If she does not want it, hospitals typically dispose of it as medical waste.

Placenta consumption, often in pill form, is increasingly common in the UK.

Maternity website Babycentre advises: "If you want to give it a go, make sure you let your midwife know that you want to keep your placenta, before you give birth.

"You can put it in your birth plan, or speak to your midwife at one of your antenatal appointments.

"Like any meat product, placentas can go off, so make sure yours is stored properly. Keep it in the fridge if you're going to eat or encapsulate it soon, or put it in the freezer until you decide to thaw and use it."

  • Drugs
  • Family
  • China

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