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My cousin saved me from brink of death

Vida Magai was one of the four million Kenyans living with Chronic Kidney Disease until she got a donor. Many people living with the disease are not aware, until it is too late

Bernard Gitau @benagitau

Over four million Kenyans are living with Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) and many are unaware they have the disease. Among the four million, a significant proportion progresses to kidney failure where out of these, about 10,000 people develop end-stage renal disease and require dialysis.

Unfortunately, only 10 per cent of those who need dialysis are able to access the services, according to the Ministry of Health. CKD is referred as a silent killer with nephrologists revealing most people are not aware they have the disease, as there are few noticeable symptoms. Vida Magai is among the CKD survivors.

The disease almost cost her life. Magai, 23, suffered for a couple of years before her parents sought specialised treatment when her condition deteriorated.

“I was a regular client in various hospitals in Nairobi where I was treated for various diseases, but my condition worsened,” says Magai. The disease affected her performance in school, forcing her to be a perennial absentee. “I was vomiting, did not have an appetite and had swollen feet and ankles. In school I was only administered painkillers or antibiotics,” she says.

When the illness took a heavy toll on her while in Form Two in 2012, Magai’s parents took her to Mater Hospital where she was diagnosed with the CKD. The doctors recommended dialysis immediately. “I started dialysis once a week. As time went by, the dialysis period increased to twice and then thrice a week. My parent decided to look for a donor,” she says.

Being the first born in a family of six, Magai could not get a donor from her siblings. “The second born was not compatible after the tests, while the others were too young to donate. I was stranded in my own world,” says Magai. Though her father a military officer at Kahawa barracks was willing to donate one of his kidneys, his age did not permit.

After one-year-and-a-half of dialysis and search of a donor, her cousin, Henry Magai volunteered to give her one. “I heard of my cousin’s predicament and decided to donate my kidney. She was too sick, was not eating and was almost going blind,” says Henry. In 2015, Magai underwent successful kidney transplant at Kenyatta National Hospital.

The cost of dialysis is Sh15,000 per session in public hospitals. Magai says the transplant relieved her the financial pressure on her parents, but they continue to incur expenses related to the drugs she has to take.

“It is a relief that I got a donor, but cost of drugs which I use frequently is equally costly. The government should make drugs affordable to Kenyans,” she says. Nephrologist, Doris Kinuthia indicates that Chronic Kidney Disease is more prevalent in women than men. “Kidney disease is highly prevalent in women at 14 per cent and men at 12 per cent,” she says.

She adds that kidney transplant is a challenge due to lack of willing donors. “The government recently allowed transplanting a kidney from a dead donor, but we are yet to embrace it due to equipment and personnel,” she adds.

Kinuthia reveals that more women usually donate their kidney than men. Though the disease meets all criteria for a major public health problem, the World Health Organisation (WHO) does not classify it as a non-communicable disease.

WHO in its global campaign against non-communicable diseases targets diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and lung disease, but CKD is not mentioned. According to Christine Ngaruiya, Assistant Professor Yale University Department of Emergency Medicine, Non Communicable Diseases kills over 70 per cent of population in developing countries.

The solution according to Kinuthia is inexpensive and early detection and treatment programmes, which are feasible and effective in both the developed and developing world. Some of the well known chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertenision and heart disease are directly linked to kidney disease.

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