Mounting Kilimanjaro for kidney patients

The UCT’s Surgical Society plans to summit Mount Kilimanjaro this December to raise money to buy a life-saving dialysis machine for Groote Schuur Hospital.

The student-driven society, which works with Groote Schuur Hospital’s surgery department, wants to prevent patients with kidney diseases being turned away from Groote Hospital, which only has one dialysis machine.

Nicholas Loxton, a member of the society and organiser of the climb, said it was not pleasant sitting in on transplant committee meetings where it was decided which patients would get dialysis and which would not.

“Having to tell a patient that they are going to die and that you are unable to do anything about it, because there are not enough machines to cater for them, is one of the most heartbreaking things a person can experience. The sad reality is that all too often, patients who finally make it to the top of the waiting list have already died,” he said.

Mr Loxton said those needing dialysis had already reached the end-stage of kidney failure so the organs could no longer do their job and filter out toxins from the blood. These patients were unlikely to survive for long without an urgent kidney transplant or regular dialysis.

More than half of the patients being referred to Groote Schuur for dialysis did not get the treatment, he said, and the Surgical Society hoped to change that by doing the Kilimanjaro fund-raiser.

According to a Groote Schuur policy document on renal replacement treatment, there is a worldwide demand for dialysis that can’t be met.

“The demand for treatment is for 1 000 new patients per annum. The number of patients currently receiving dialysis in the Western Cape is approximately 250. The mortality rate in dialysed patients is 10%, therefore each year 125 new patients can be accommodated.

“Currently we are meeting only 12.5% of the dialysis need in the public sector,” the document says.

Currently, the annual cost of treating a patient with dialysis is about R100 000. There is a also a shortage of facilities and medical professionals with the necessary skills.

Groote Schuur spokesperson Alaric Jacobs said the project was an excellent idea.

“There is always a need for patients with kidney diseases in the province. We have patients on the waiting list for dialysis, but it’s projects like this that will help make a difference. At the end we like to see patients getting a kidney so that they can live a normal life. Ultimately that is what happens after dialysis,” said Mr Jacobs.

A dialysis machine costs about R180 000 and the society hopes to raise enough money to not only buy the machine but run it as well.

“We have a group of students who have signed up for the climb, and are currently raising funds to support the costs of their own trips as well as contributing towards the dialysis fund. We have started getting together to do training hikes in the local area to prepare for the six-day hike on Kilimanjaro,” said Mr Loxton.

Visit kilimanjaroclimb.co.za or email Nicholas Loxton at Kili.uctsurgical.ac.za for more information.