Protecting Sri Lanka’s kidney patients

By Sarah Hannan

Established in 2009 as a specialty renal sciences institute by the Ministry of Health, Nutrition, and Indigenous Medicine, the National Institute for Nephrology Dialysis and Transplantation (NINDT) on weekdays sees about 350 patients. Over the past decade, the NINDT developed and implemented the National Programme for Chronic Kidney Disease, Dialysis, and Renal Transplantation for Sri Lanka.

Being the referral centre for high-end and complex therapies and procedures, the NINDT operates as a state-run hospital which offers services free of charge to all its patients. The facility at NINDT is equipped with the necessary diagnostic and therapeutic facilities for chronic kidney disease (CKD) and chronic kidney disease of unknown aetiology (CKDU).

While the institute is equipped with state-of-the art equipment and well experienced staff to attend to patients’ needs, the need for a welfare centre equipped with short-stay room facilities has risen, The Sunday Morning learnt.

Understanding the basic needs of these patients who have to attend clinics on a regular basis and the facilities required by them, a group of well-wishers established the Sri Lanka Organisation for Protection of Kidney Patients (SLOPKP).

Lending a helping hand

“The hospital serves about 350 outpatients who attend the clinics five days a week. Our organisation provides them with tea and a snack. We have also looked at several schemes where we assist patients from low-income families by supporting their children by providing school supplies as well as obtaining dialysis prescribed to be taken from a private medical institution,” SLOPKP Media Secretary Ajantha Gunasekara said.

According to SLOPKP, the hospital only has provisions to provide four out of the eight dialysis procedures required per month, and the rest is prescribed to be conducted by a private clinic.

“Not all patients can afford to get the rest of the dialysis procedures done, and most of the time, they just get free dialysis. It is estimated that a patient would have to incur a cost of around Rs. 17,500 to get dialysis done from a private clinic,” he said.

When a patient is preparing to undergo a kidney transplant, they are required to purchase a list of essentials. The SLOPKP noted that the cost of these amount to around Rs. 80,000. “The most crucial requirement is to provide suitable facilities for the patients’ caretakers. Most of the time, it would be one of their family members and just after the operation, the patient will be kept in hospital for another three to four weeks.”

Much-needed welfare centre

Therefore, the organisation is now seeking the Government’s assistance to establish a welfare centre with lodging facilities for patients’ caretakers who attend the NINDT, which is located on Jayantha Weerasekara Mawatha, Colombo 10.

“This requirement was brought to the attention of the Ministry of Health. We were told that at the moment, there is no state-owned land that could be allotted for the construction of such a facility. Most of the land in the proximity is actually the property of the Sri Lanka Railway Department. So we have now requested for a meeting with the line Minister to propose this project.”

Moreover, the meals for the NINDT are prepared at the kitchen of the National Hospital of Sri Lanka. However, the SLOPKP stated that patients undergoing a transplant are required to follow a special diet, which would assist them in recuperating.

“If we have a building designed to facilitate these requirements, we can also have a separate kitchen where meals for these recovering patients could be prepared. With the current security situation in the country, the hospital only allows patients to enter at the time the clinics commence. The patients are always accompanied by a family member, and since they travel from far-out places, when they arrive in Colombo, they have to sit outside the hospital premises and wait till the gate is opened.”

SLOPKP is of the view that having a welfare centre would benefit these patients and their guardians to rest until the clinics commence.

Project parked at the Ministry of Health

As the present Director of NINDT was recently appointed, we were directed to former NINDT Director Dr. Rathnasiri A. Hewage to clarify details regarding the lack of facilities: “The NINDT was established in 2009 and at the time, the amount of kidney patients who required treatment was far less compared to today. Over the years, we have seen a surge in the number of patients. Since this is the only specialist hospital accessible to all in Colombo, we noticed that the facilities need to be improved,” he explained.

Dr. Hewage also noted that the NINDT on several occasions raised the concern of overcrowding and lack of space to treat patients at the Ministry of Health. However, if the facility is to be upgraded, more land needs to be acquired to construct such facilities. He further noted that while the project already received Cabinet approval and even approval from the Department of National Planning, project progress hit a snag at the Ministry of Health due to the land allocation matter. The project value is estimated at Rs. 1,000 million.