Sat | Sep 23, 2023

‘There’s a limit to which we can go’

Officials urge lifestyle changes to prevent kidney disease amid treatment hurdles

Published:Thursday | February 9, 2023 | 1:24 AMSashana Small/Staff Reporter
Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton (left) interacts with a patient undergoing dialysis during a tour of the Kelly Hoo Haemodialysis Unit at the Spanish Town Hospital in St Catherine on Wednesday.
Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton (left) interacts with a patient undergoing dialysis during a tour of the Kelly Hoo Haemodialysis Unit at the Spanish Town Hospital in St Catherine on Wednesday.
Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton sits next to one of the recently donated haemodialysis machines at the Spanish Town Hospital during a tour Wednesday.
Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton sits next to one of the recently donated haemodialysis machines at the Spanish Town Hospital during a tour Wednesday.
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The renal unit at the Kingston Public Hospital (KPH) is to be equipped with 10 new haemodialysis machines in March.

Director of the South East Regional Health Authority, Errol Greene, told The Gleaner that the equipment will boost the capacity of the island’s largest hospital to treat patients with renal failure.

The KPH currently has 17 functioning haemodialysis machines and caters to up to 50 patients daily on three shifts.

However, Greene lamented that many of the machines are old and frequently malfunction, causing delays in treatment.

“The machines break down, and sometimes when they break down, the patients can’t frequently be dialysed at the frequency at which they are scheduled. So we expect that once we get the new ones, then at least people can expect better service, fewer breakdowns, and so on,” he said.

The almost $30-million infrastructure development, financed by the Culture, Health, Arts, Sports and Education (CHASE) Fund, is also expected to bring relief to the more than 400 kidney patients on the hospital’s waiting list.

Greene was speaking as he accompanied Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton on a tour of the Spanish Town Hospital’s renal unit on Wednesday.

The Katie Hoo Haemodialysis Unit at the Spanish Town Hospital was outfitted four months ago with 10 refurbished haemodialysis machines, which were donated by Renal Dynamics, a medical supply store in Florida in the United States.

While noting that the refurbished machines is a positive development, Tufton stated that it will still be difficult to satisfy the demand as “renal failure is a big part of our lifestyle in Jamaica”.

“What we’re seeing is that non-communicable diseases – hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, strokes, and so forth – are becoming dominant in our population and are occupying our hospital beds, and, most importantly, are a major debilitating factor for our citizens in terms of their wellness, cost to the country, and so we have to spend more time pushing lifestyle changes,” he said.

As a result, he said the hospital’s dialysis waiting list of 300 patients remains a moving target.

“We’ll always need more space and more machines because of the renal issues that we face in the population. So sometimes it’s difficult to build out the capacity to satisfy the demand because the demand changes every day and, indeed, gets worse,” Tufton said.

Dr Roger Smith, consultant nephrologist at Spanish Town Hospital, stated that people with underlying NCDs can live an average of five years with regular dialysis.

He joined Tufton in appealing to Jamaicans to adopt a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise and maintaining a healthy diet to lessen the risk of getting kidney disease.

“Many times, people have never had a kidney test in their entire life, and the first time that they find out about kidney disease is when they are admitted to the hospital for some other factor, and by then, it is too late,” Smith said.

And while treatment is free in the public system, he stated that privately, it would cost up to $15,000 per treatment, which would need to be done three times weekly for optimum benefit.

“[For] the average Jamaican, to find $45,000 every week … is just prohibitive, and so we cannot stress enough that while we offer it in the public area, and ultimately, the taxpayers pay for it, the illness is extremely costly, and there’s a limit to which we can go in terms of how many of the machines and how many people can get dialysis,” Tufton added.

KPH and Spanish Town are two of the five public hospitals that have renal-care units. The others are the University, Cornwall Regional, and Mandeville Regional hospitals.

sashana.small@gleanerjm.com