Nearly 500 UAE residents have been given kidney transplants in Abu Dhabi, saving the lives of critically ill patients.
Sheikh Khalifa Medical City, the first and largest kidney transplant centre in the UAE, has carried out 490 operations on patients of 40 different nationalities since it opened in 2008.
The highest number of transplants were given to Filipinos (83), followed by Emiratis (81), Indians (52), Sudanese (50) and Pakistanis (48), the centre said.
Doctors have performed 37 transplants so far this year, compared to 72 in the whole of last year.
They expect numbers to rise after seeing an increase in patients with end-of-care kidney disease.
“Every year I receive at least 300 patients with end of care kidney disease,” Dr Muhammad Zaman, SKMC's head of transplantation and hepatobiliary-pancreatic surgery, told The National.
He said that there are currently 1,300 UAE residents with kidney disease on dialysis at Abu Dhabi Health Services Company (Seha) centres, with almost half of them in urgent need of transplants.
Kidney disease is when the organs are damaged and can't filter blood properly. Patients are given dialysis, which removes extra fluid from the blood when the kidneys stop working. It helps to treat kidney failure.
Dr Zaman said that all UAE residents with kidney disease can get treatment regardless of insurance.
All dialysis costs, medication and the transplant operation, are covered by the government.
“In an ideal world, I would transplant all my patients. But even if I transplant 200 patients a year, I would still have made no progress because I still receive at least that same number in new patients every year,” Dr Zaman said.
A growing issue
According to Seha, one in 10 people in the UAE has kidney disease.
The cost of a kidney transplant is the same as a year of dialysis treatment.
There are three options for kidney patients requiring a transplant: a living relative donor, a paired kidney and a deceased donor.
Dr Zaman said that a transplant is not only less of an economic burden on the government, but also beneficial for patients who no longer need time-consuming dialysis.
“It means they can go back to work, spend time with their family and have a more meaningful life,” he said.
Dr Zaman said that while the number of transplants is expected to rise, patients are more likely to come off waiting lists thanks to a range of available options.
Deceased organ donation has been permitted in the UAE since 2016, when a federal law was introduced allowing for the procedure.
Previously, only a living relative could donate a kidney.
SKMC last year performed 31 kidney transplants from deceased donors and 41 from live donors – an almost 50 per cent increase for both procedures.
In 2021, Seha said it was supporting “paired kidney exchange” which is an approach where patients with incompatible donors are able to swap in order to receive a compatible kidney.
Recently, a Sudanese and an Emirati family swapped organs for a transplant at the centre.
Osman Ahmed, 30, had planned to donate his kidney to brother, Ali, 41, but they were found to be incompatible.
The paired kidney exchange meant his brother still received a kidney.
“I donated my kidney to someone else and my brother got a kidney from another person,” Osman Ahmed told The National. “I never asked who my kidney went to or cared much as long as my brother got a kidney and had the transplant. That was our main concern.”
Both procedures were completed at the same time.
“The programme helped to save my brother's life. He used to go for dialysis for four hours, three times a week,” he added.
Doctors say prevention is key and should be the current focus if there are any hopes to reduce the number of people living with kidney disease.
“The prevention and early diagnosis of kidney disease are integral facts of any comprehensive healthcare strategy, deserving of our sustained attention and efforts,” Dr Mohamed Alseiari, chair of Seha's Renal and Transplantation Clinical Council and a consultant transplant nephrologist, told The National.
“Unfortunately, due to its silent nature, it often goes unnoticed until it has progressed to severe stages.
“This makes the case for preventative measures and early detection even more compelling. Preventing kidney disease isn't just about protecting an organ, it's about preserving overall health and well-being.”
Chronic kidney disease is often asymptomatic in its early stages and may remain so until it has advanced dangerously, Dr Alseiari said.
Early diagnosis through routine screenings, particularly for high-risk individuals, can slow or halt the disease's progression.
These treatments can include lifestyle and diet modification and management of coexisting conditions such as diabetes and hypertension.
“Early diagnosis of CKD not only has the potential to save lives but also to reduce overall healthcare costs significantly,” Dr Alseiari said.
“Preventing kidney disease and ensuring early diagnosis of CKD is paramount.
“By working towards this goal, we are ultimately investing in the longevity and quality of life of millions of people worldwide.”