Kidney patients sound SOS over failing Dialysis machines

The Dialysis Unit at Kamuzu Central Hospital

Patients with kidney problems have appealed to authorities to come to their rescue over the deteriorating situation of the Kamuzu Central hospital’s Dialysis unit which they describe as dire.

They say the current performance of the machines is below average thereby causing a lot of complications to clients and that instead of getting relief after the sessions, they get worse or find themselves admitted.

Initially, the KCH unit had 10 machines but as of 8th August 2020, there are only six which are on and off; a development which has seen some patients being rejected and kept on waiting list for a long time.

Chairperson of Kidney Association of Malawi Frank Mwale disclosed this has led to deaths of some of the patients stating that in 2016 it had 64 active clients and currently it is treating 32 and that the others have died.

One machine is supposed to have two sessions in a day with a patient using it for four hours.

Mwale explained that with 32 patients, the machines are overworked and not serviced properly and have been in operation for the past six years.

“If the Ministry can come in and help Kamuzu Central hospital in having properly regulated services which will be taking care of the machines because at the moment it’s like there is no permanent service provider to maintain and service the machines regularly. As such, they are not serviced properly and they are always on and off,” he lamented.

While acknowledging the provision of dialysis services is an expensive undertaking but that government is offering them for free, he feels the Ministry has a duty to provide for them in a radius which does not compromise other rights such as living with their families and doing economic activities.

Mwale (in red tie) want service providers to provide maintenance to the dialysis machines

Only two government facilities Kamuzu and Queen Elizabeth Central hospitals treat kidney patients with Blantyre having five machines.

Carmel Kumwanje a 44 year old kidney patient explained that he has to use the machine every two days meaning that his very existence depends on it.

An accountant by profession, he said he stopped working due to challenges in his mobility as kidney problems weaken the bones.

Kumwanje who has been on the dialysis machine for 16 years described the journey as challenging as he needs resources to facilitate his hospital visits.

 “Am not able to walk on my own so I cannot manage to go to the office; as a result I resigned on medical grounds. Currently am literally doing nothing depending on other sources that some people should help me

“This is why I'm saying a kidney problem is an issue that needs to be addressed before it becomes a chronic one because managing a kidney problem is much expensive than preventing it,” he stated.

Kamwanje resigned from his job on medical grounds

Married with two kids, it is his wife who does most of the work to support the family and provide money for the hospital trips.

He appealed for government’s intervention in procuring essential recommended drugs such as calcium.

Kumwanje bemoaned the performance of the dialysis machine as they are not helping them in treating their conditions.

He highlighted complications like weakening of the bones, general body pains which makes them not to perform at work.

“In most cases the majority of us lose our jobs, even lose our families because of the challenges that we are facing due to problems of the kidneys and it’s not as simple as what somebody may think that it’s a kidney; the complications that are coming in are so sophisticated that it’s very hard to manage to an individual and the relatives”

At 51, Angela Watison depends on her sister who is not married for survival and has to fend for herself and also cater for her hospital needs.

She stated that this is quite sad as oftentimes they feel discriminated and not loved.

Watison: "No boss can allow that you be in the office thrice a week then the other two days you’re not there"

“It is heartbreaking that the disease is downplayed which is sad because the kidney is the main machine in one’s body so when it fails, it means the whole body is confused and as a result if one has kidney failure, it’s very rare to be employed because no boss can allow that you be in the office thrice a week then the other two days you’re not there.

“Sometimes the whole week you find yourself down and we oftentimes find ourselves jobless and sometimes we’re told there are no drugs at the hospital and are asked to buy on your own and the medication is so expensive. Am not working how am I going to buy it? It’s impossible!” lamented Watison.

She stated that the most difficult part is when one of their colleagues passes on as it gives the feeling that they are next in line which makes them psychologically affected.

According to her, most women end up divorced unintentionally because their partners get tired of taking care of them and it’s a painful experience.

Members of the Association of Malawi briefed the Parliamentary Committee on Health on the challenges of the Dialysis Unit at KCH.

Ngwale (M) promised to take up the matter with Health officials

They want the Committee to lobby the Health Ministry procure new machines for the unit and consider having a Kidney clinic with specialized doctors providing the needed services in all the three regions.

Although the Committee had reservations that they came in late with their concerns as the budget has already been presented, it has promised to visit the unit and appreciate the challenges.   

The Committee’s Chairperson Mathews Ngwale noted that some diseases which are rare and others common and normally government prioritizes on communicable diseases.

Although the issues have been presented late to the Committee, he pledged to take up the matter with the Ministry’s officials.