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COVID-19 Takes Toll on Kidney Transplant Recipients

Dr Robert Kalyesubula, a nephrologist at the hospital explains that the majority of those that they have received ended up in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and three of his kidney disease survivors have succumbed to the viral respiratory disease in the past week.
Dr. Josephat Byamugisha, the Director Makerere University Hospital (center) guides Ministry of Health Officials on a tour of the Organ Bio Bank which is being expanded to house organs like the kidney.

Audio 4

Six patients who have undergone kidney transplantation are currently admitted with severe COVID-19 at Mulago Specialized National Referral Hospital.

Dr Robert Kalyesubula, a nephrologist at the hospital says that COVID-19 can take a heavy toll on patients with kidney disease. He explains that the majority of those that they have received ended up in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and three of his kidney disease survivors have succumbed to the viral respiratory disease in the past week. 

Kalyesubula who was speaking during a tour of the just-opened Organ Biobank based at Makerere University Hospital today.

//Cue in; “It’s actually a very…

Cue out……Still very sick.”// 

During the first wave of COVID-19 last year, a senior doctor Dr Micheal Musiitwa who had previously done a kidney transplant became the first kidney disease survivor to die of COVID-19.

In a recent study done by researchers at the hospital, he says two in every a hundred adults above 25 years of age were found to be living with advanced Kidney disease whereas mild kidney was found in two in every ten individuals. Overall, they estimate about 400,000 Ugandans have a form of kidney disease.

Annually, according to statistics by the Ministry of Health, between 20 and 30 people are referred for a Kidney transplant abroad whereas more than 200 others are undergoing dialysis, the kind of treatment where one’s blood is purified with the help of a machine after they have suffered kidney complications.

Kalyesubula says that the need is still big as only 10 per cent of the people who need dialysis in Uganda get it owing to the expense involved. At Mulago Hospital which is the cheapest in the country, patients pay 100, 000 Shillings per session yet one requires two sessions each week until a transplant is finally done.

//Cue in; ”The bigger question…

Cue out…about 3000 people.”//  

Unfortunately, still, a huge number of patients never chance a transplant estimated to cost between 100 and 150 million Shillings  depending on where one opts to do it as this kind of service is currently unavailable in Uganda. 

Prof. Moses Jolooba who is a principal investigator on a the project aimed at advancing organ biobanking in Uganda says monthly up to USD 70 million leaks out of the country for transplants done abroad.  He says his project which is funded by the Makerere University Research and Innovations Fund (MAK- RIF) seeks to avert this and that they are in the process of building a bigger laboratory or bank that will house such delicate organs and enable these complicated and expensive procedures to be done here. 

//Cue in; ”There are other…   

Cue out……organs are available.”// 

He however notes that so far, according to perception studies they have conducted, participants expressed worries of being manipulated when organ donation starts with already existing fears of theft even as the new bank only houses sperms, ova, stem cells and skin. 

Allaying fears of organ theft in the country, Kalyesubula says it’s very unlikely that organs like the kidney are involved explaining that the dynamics of the transplant requires that the organ is placed in the recipient within less than three hours after removing it from the donor. 

//Cue in; “If you get a…      

Cue out…very unlikely.”//