Renal failure, commonly known as kidney disease, occurs when the body’s main blood cleansing organ loses its ability to filter waste from the blood sufficiently.
According to Kenya Renal Association’s (KRA) latest statistics, more than four million Kenyans suffer from the condition.
Only 10 per cent of the four million, according to the statistics, can afford dialysis services — cleansing blood of waste externally — costing an average Sh9,500 per session.
Raging from high cost of medication, lack of facilities to attend to the patients in Kenya and unavailability of drugs, kidney failure patients’ unrecorded plight has buried dreams and left patients and affected families in distress.
Treatment is either by dialysis, with frequency varying according to patient, or kidney transplant.
Narrating their dilemma to the People Daily, about 70 patients, who recently converged at a forum for recovered and recovering victims, lack of information is the main challenge that renders lives of affected persons miserable.
The patients had come together under the Kidney Transplant Support Group that was formed to sensitise Kenyans on healthy living and kidney failure preventive measures. The group hopes to draw the attention of Kenyans to observe a healthy lifestyle that can contribute to strong kidneys.
Many said little is done to sensitise Kenyans on preventive measures of the condition, further stating that lack of information on which medical facilities to seek help from, makes their condition worse.
Julius Kang’ethe, a resident of Kandara, Murang’a county, who donated one of his kidneys to his ailing brother 18 years ago, grieved that his brother died from kidney infections a few days after the transplant.
“Fourteen years later, the only kidney I was left with failed forcing me to look for a donor as I needed immediate transplant. I started feeling pain all over my body. I first thought it was Malaria and I thought all would be well. A screening at Kenyatta National Hospital revealed I had a kidney condition. I had used all the money I had on dialysis forcing me to do a harambee to facilitate my kidney transplant which was donated by my first-born son. I now live a beggar’s life since I cannot survive without medication,” he said
Peter Maina, a 66 year-old father of three, who was diagnosed with a kidney problem in 2014, said he started feeling exhausted after doing simple tasks.
“I started by feeling fatigued after performing simple tasks. After a few days, my legs and face started to swell attracting the attention of my family. I had visited so many doctors who were making money from me by doing all sorts of tests but could not diagnose my condition,” he said.
Maina says most Kenyan hospitals cannot admit a patient with kidney problems without a deposit of Sh100,000.
A patient with a kidney problem lives on prescribed eating habits for proper accumulation of relevant nutrients making their lives extra-costly.
“We live on special diets which is expensive. A kidney transplant victim can never be relied on to be a bread-winner since we cannot perform effectively because most of the time we are grounded by low immunity,” says Maina.
After three months of dialysis sessions, Maina says he spent Sh720,000 before he thought of doing a kidney transplant.
For transplant in a private hospital, Sh1.6 million is the minimum for most patients who do it in Kenya. But most helpless Kenyans end up spending on average Sh2.5 million locally, not to mention others who are fleeced by ‘medical brokers’ who arrange transplants for those seeking treatment abroad.
Although Maina easily managed to find a donor who happened to be his 24-year-old son John Njoroge, he said Kenyans agonise in desperate search of willing donors.
Currently, the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) caters for up to Sh500,000 on kidney transplant and Sh80,000 on dialysis every month, something patients feel is far below their expenses.
“For a kidney transplant patient, one is required to have at least Sh3 million but NHIF only caters for Sh500,000 which cannot even meet the surgery fee,” said James Mwaura who was diagnosed with kidney failure in 2017.
The head of renal unit at KNH, Dr John Ngigi, concurs with Mwaura and says that the government needs to look afresh into the costs of post-kidney transplant as well as expenses for pre-surgery tests.
According to Dr Ngigi, most of the samples for the pre-surgery tests are either ferried to South Africa or India, thus making them very expensive.
Mwaura narrated how a woman from Kambiti in Murang’a county died after failing to consistently go for dialysis for lack of transport arguing that patients from poor backgrounds hardly survive the deadly disease.