Demand for law to allow kidney patients dialysis without fearing for job

Call for obligatory breaks for treatment, as health official says kidney patients have been deported or left homeless.

ABU DHABI // Many kidney patients have been fired from their jobs and deported because dialysis takes up too much time, a public health official says.

Now families and doctors are calling for a law making it mandatory for employers to give those with kidney failure time off for the treatment.

Lubna Al Braiki, a manager of dialysis services at the Abu Dhabi Health Services Company, or Seha, said there were patients who were homeless.

Ms Al Braiki said many of those who were deported because of the time taken for dialysis died shortly afterwards, because the treatment in their home country was too expensive or inadequate.

“There are heartbreaking stories that most people don’t realise are going on around them,” she said.

“We have patients who are homeless because they were fired from their jobs after their employers found out they needed dialysis.”

Ms Al Braiki said one hospital’s medical team and social workers feared for a Pakistani patient who was too afraid of his employer to have regular dialysis.

Kidney failure is when the kidneys fail to adequately filter metabolic waste from the blood.

A dialysis machine acts as a replacement kidney by removing waste and water from the blood.

“Many of these patients need to come for dialysis three times a week and each session is up to four hours,” said Dr Zubaida Al Ismaili, deputy chief executive at Seha’s dialysis services.

“So if employers do not support this, many of these patients might lose their jobs, which creates more difficulties especially if they are supporting a family.”

Dr Al Ismaili said the same issues could affect parents whose children are on dialysis.

“Parents are always struggling to get sick leave for them. They are questioned all the time, so it’s important to be supportive to the parents because they spend long hours in the hospital.

“We need a law for dialysis patients and other patients with chronic diseases.”

Kayed Yousef, 48, has a master’s in commercial administration and was once Jordan’s national table tennis champion.

Mr Yousef, who has since lost more than 30 per cent of his body weight and is jobless, would not tell employers that he needed the kidney treatment.

“I never told anyone I was on dialysis because, when I used to tell employers they never hired me,” he said.

Mr Yousef had to quit when his condition worsened.

“No one would tolerate such an employee but I was lucky to have been employed for so long.

“I just wish the public would have more awareness on what our lives are like. We can be productive and our condition isn’t contagious. We also don’t want their pity, just a little understanding.”

Another issue for kidney patients is the cost of treatment. In June last year Daman, the national insurer changed its terms for dependants who are not covered by employers.

The changes mean that instead of paying about Dh500 for their annual policy renewal, patients aged 60 and over now have to pay Dh10,500, while those between 40 and 59 must pay Dh5,700.

K M, from Bahrain, who pays for his 81-year-old father’s treatment, said it was a shocking move.

“At the beginning of last year it cost me about Dh500 to renew my father’s insurance card,” he said. “When I went a few months ago they told me I had to pay Dh10,500.

“My father is retired and has no income and I don’t make that much money. How are people who earn Dh2,000 or Dh3,000 supposed to get that money?”

There are 233 expat patients aged 60 and above receiving dialysis in Abu Dhabi. About 1,100 people are on dialysis in the emirate, half of whom are Emirati. The eldest patient is 93 and the youngest is just 3.

Ms Al Braiki last year set up the first official advisory council in the UAE for a chronic illness.

The Kidney Patient Network is a council of patients, families and Seha representatives who meet each month to relay their concerns and suggestions to health authorities.

“The council is an opportunity for patients to have a voice. It’s a platform where we can engage in a dialogue between patients and Seha,” Ms Al Braiki said.

There are 24 members in the council and first on its agenda is to help patients who need it most.

“We want to help the patients who could not pay for their insurance or who have lost their jobs and are spending time in sleeping on the streets because they have lost their only source of income,” Ms Al Braiki said.

The council will be visiting charities and government departments with Seha’s social workers to raise funds.