Costs threaten health of kidney dialysis patients

Struggling with big bills, vital sessions are often skipped.

SHARJAH // Patients with kidney problems are putting their lives at risk by avoiding dialysis sessions because of the high cost, health professionals say.

Those suffering from disorders including chronic kidney disease often need up to three dialysis sessions a week, which can cost about Dh2,000 in total.

The bills are proving too much for some people with inadequate health insurance, who opt to reduce the number of treatments or skip sessions, said Dr Hareth Aljboury, head of nephrology at Al Qassimi Hospital in Sharjah.

“Patients told me that they can’t afford to pay for the dialysis sessions and requested that they stick to one or two sessions a week, which is a change that will put their life on the line,” Dr Aljboury said. “Their health will deteriorate rapidly.”

About 40 per cent of the patients having dialysis also have chronic blood sugar and blood pressure problems, which add to costs, said Dr Aljboury.

The nephrology department has the capacity for 150 patients but demand is so high that its 25 stations regularly treat people around the clock, he said.

Dialysis is a process that removes waste and excess water from the blood, primarily as a replacement for lost kidney function.

People suffering from kidney failure describe their condition as slow death.

Ahlam, from Sharjah, relied on her son to pay for her treatment but admitted her family was struggling to meet the costs.

“My son is young and can’t afford to pay all my medical bills so I had to reduce the sessions to once a week,” she said. “That led my health to deteriorate. My face is constantly yellow, I can’t walk normally and I might fall unconscious,” said the Syrian, in her 50s.

Dr Aljboury said people suffering symptoms of kidney disease should see a doctor immediately to lessen the risk to their health and possibly lower the cost of treatment.

“People should get tested frequently,” he said. “The earlier the detection, the less the cost will be on them. The majority of the cases we receive come when their kidneys completely fail.”

Last year, the department carried out about 22,000 dialysis procedures, and Dr Aljboury said there were plans to expand next year, which included relocation of the women’s and children’s section.

“We are hoping to move to a bigger space next year,” he said. “It will have enough staff to accommodate the high demand.

“Also, we are hoping to start carrying out transplant operations. We only had three transplant operations here in 2008, carried out by a visiting doctor.”