Features & Opinions

Dialysis Cost Hike in Ghana: A Reverend Father’s Experience and Plea

I have not specialized in any aspects of health services. I have only been a poor victim of renal failure since 2019. I was on dialysis till April 16, 2022, when I was lucky to undergo a kidney transplant. Thanks to the efficient Italian healthcare services and insurance policies. It is on the basis of this that I am attempting to meddle in the present price increase per sitting for dialysis.

Kidney failure occurs when the kidneys have lost the ability to filter waste from your blood. This lost ability of the kidney happens in stages. When it gets to the end-stage that is when we call it a kidney failure disease.

Briefly, the main causes include uncontrolled diabetes, high blood pressure, acute kidney injuries and many bad habits such as excessive intake of alcohol, abuse of painkillers, use of unprescribed antibiotics among others things. I would humbly advise that we reduce our consumption of food with so much preservatives, artificial colouring and tastes. Read carefully the ingredients of every packaged food before you buy. Most of them are very harmful. If a product is labeled as having a taste of a particular fruit it means it is not that fruit, but chemicals have been added up to arrive at that taste. Else, they would simply call the product by the name of the fruit and not having the taste of that fruit.

One would see signs such as weight loss, poor appetite, swollen feet, swollen eye bags, shortness of breath, tiredness, blood in urine, in some cases no urine at all, insomnia, among many others when the condition begins to approach the end stage.

At the stage described above, with all the difficulties, pains and discomforts, one would die after
a short while if he does not have a kidney transplant or dialysis.

Kidney or renal transplantation is a surgical procedure by which a kidney, either of a deceased or a living donor is transplanted into a person suffering an end-stage kidney failure. Hence, in places like Italy, Spain and many other places, people donate ‘a kidney’ just as others donate blood elsewhere. I said a kidney because every human being has two kidneys, but a human needs only one healthy kidney to survive. Studies have proven that the remaining kidney works better after one is donated.

Dialysis on the other hand is a clinical purification of the blood as a substitute for the normal functioning of the kidney. We have in-centre hemodialysis, in-home hemodialysis on one hand, and peritoneal dialysis on the other hand. So, we can say we have two main types of dialysis. For want of space, I won’t explain the types any further. I believe in Ghana people mostly do in-centre hemodialysis, that is the dialysis done in a hospital or clinic facility.

Both the transplant and the dialysis are very expensive everywhere. Hence, in many advanced countries, these procedures are always government-sponsored. For a standard purification of the blood the patient needs three separate sittings of the in-centre hemodialysis every week. I used to have mine on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. The process is painful, uncomfortable, time-consuming and very exhausting. Even though in Italy the patient is served breakfast, a TV above to Watch if so desired, and a sandwich after treatment, (They do so because patients very often feel dizzy after the dialysis), the hospitals provide car services to pick you from home and send you back home immediately after, the pain and the tiredness are still felt. Every month they run thorough medical examinations on all patients and with that, doctors advise patients as to what to do, mostly regarding their diet. All these are provided free of charge.

When they finally found a donor for me, they performed the transplant surgery that lasted for six hours free of charge. The medicines needed to keep the transplanted kidney functioning are very expensive and must be taken for the rest of one’s life. I am grateful to the Italian government for this great act of charity they do for all, mostly foreigners. I say foreigners because in most Italian dialysis centres the patients are mostly foreigners, Africans and Asians. I always feel sad when I see fellow Ghanaians who have the same condition I had suffered die. I feel guilty anytime I think I have felt worried about my situation. How I wish I could help my people in that regard. It is my prayerful wish that one day I find someone or a group of people who would be willing to help build a dialysis centre in the hospital in my district serving over half a million people and without such important facilities. I have since taken it upon myself to help a few kidney failure patients whose appeals for help I saw on social media. Charity requires that if you cannot help a thousand, help one – Mother Theresa of Calcutta. Surprisingly, most of them look very unhealthy, and very weak in spite of the dialysis.

When I was doing dialysis, one wouldn’t know I was sick unless I told them. That means something is not working perfectly with the dialysis in Ghana.

I was shocked when I read a couple of days ago that Korle-bu Teaching Hospital is considering increasing the cost per sitting for dialysis from GH¢380 to GH¢765.42, because of high import taxes. Please do not do that. I beseech you in the name of God. I would appeal through the Ministry of Health, headed by Mr. Kwaku Agyemang Manu to the President and his government to please intervene to save lives.

The boy I am helping pays GH¢450 per sitting. We are only able to pay for two sittings a week and that is not enough. I have heard of people who do it just once a week or even more days elapsed without dialysis. I also know of many who cannot even afford to attempt at all. I wonder how they breathe. When I was on dialysis, Mondays were always hell for me. I struggled to breathe. This is because there was always a long break from Saturday to Tuesday.

Please, Ghana! Have mercy on these unfortunate people. Many are dying in Ghana for this disease. It is on the ascendancy among adults, our youth who are the future of our country and little children. I have heard the story of a little boy of seven years who died from kidney failure in Ashanti Bekwai and I believe there are many that I do not know.

Please, Mr. President! Subsidize the import duties on the medicines and accessories needed for dialysis for all to get treatment in Ghana. Let us make the effort to make our health insurance system stronger to cover such conditions as well. It is a very painful condition, and it is killing many. I would also entreat our health care providers to conscientize our citizenry on its causes.

Hopefully, my humble plea would be appreciated.

Source: Rev. Fr. Lawrence Gyamfi (PhD)

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