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26.11.2008 Feature Article

First kidney Transplant Commendable Spirit Of British Specialists

The sterling performance of an 11-member voluntary medical team from Queen Elizabeth Teaching Hospital in Birmingham touched my heart two weeks ago.


The news about this feat at Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital has been the most refreshing for some weeks now as it broke the monotony of the politics of who is going to occupy the Golden Jubilee House, who is getting there onetouch and who will align with who in the event of a run-off.  

According to two delightful Daily Graphic stories published two weeks ago, on November 11 and November 14, the eleven- member medical team from the UK successfully performed the first kidney transplant at our premier teaching hospital, Korle-Bu.  In all, three transplants were performed by the team in a matter of one week.  Yes, three lives were saved.  Christmas has come pretty early to three families and a nation has something to be proud of.

Exhilarated as I was with the exemplary gesture of the team from Birmingham who had volunteered their time and expertise to travel thousands of miles from their base, I caught up with one of them, a Ghanaian Medical Doctor and Kidney Specialist, Dr Dwomoa Adu, eldest son of one of Ghana's renowned civil servants, A. L. Adu of blessed memory.  My mission was to find out more about him, his team and their accomplishments.

As I walked through the swing doors leading to the right wing of the  modern theatre and intensive care suite located on the ground floor of the surgical block of the Korle-Bu Hospital where my interview with Dr Adu was to take place, I could not believe where I was.  The theatre together with the intensive care suite is a must see. Indeed, the hospital's administrators deserve a big pat on their back.

Dr Adu originally trained at Cambridge University and worked at the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital between 1973 and 1978.  Together with a colleague, Dr Anim-Addo, they started a dialysis unit at the hospital.  In 1978, he left for Birmingham, England, to do some research and specialisation in kidney diseases.  He has been with Queen Elizabeth Teaching Hospital as a kidney specialist since then.

Training programmes

In my chat with him, a very modest Dr Adu sounded very passionate about helping to develop training for kidney doctors in developing countries.  He has consequently kept healthy links with the  Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital.  As a member of the International Society of Nephrology Committee for Africa, he has participated in training programmes here in Ghana (both at Korle-Bu and the Komfo Anokye Teaching hospitals), Kenya, South Africa, Sudan, and Nigeria. In the last six years, together with his colleague, Dr Plange-Rhule, they have run training programmes in Ghana for doctors and nurses and  planned to do more.

The  chat with the Kidney Specialist interspersed with comments and additions from some members of his team was not only an eye opener for me in the area of kidney diseases  but also portrayed a bright future for renal patients in particular and Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital in general.  

The kidney is the human organ whose function is to eliminate waste products of metabolisms which are poisonous to the body and also act as a regulator, protecting body fluids and regulating blood pressure.

The atmosphere at one of the doctors' lounges where some of the UK volunteers were taking a short break after a hard week of three successful transplants, was one of satisfaction, confidence and above all  devotion to making life better for others.  

In a very relaxed mood, lacing it with jokes, a composed female member of the team was 'fixing' coffee for team members.  She even offered me a drink.  Yes, they are geniuses and very human too.

Kidney transplant in great demand

In the course of our chat, Dr Andrew Ready, Consultant Transplant Surgeon and leader of the team from Birmingham, walked in and made a quick comment on how delighted they were to be in Ghana.  In our discussions, I discovered how demanding kidney transplant could be.  

The fact that the specialists were able to perform three transplants in a matter of one week tells how much pressure the two teams from Ghana and the UK were undergoing.   I learnt that in some hospitals in the UK, it could take a month to perform three kidney transplants.  That underlined to me, the level of commitment of all involved in the transplants performed at Korle-Bu.  

Even more delightful to hear is the fact that the expenses of the team from the UK are being borne in full by the UK NGO, Transplant Links, the brain wave of Dr Jennie Jewitt-Harris.  The NGO is funded mainly from donations.

So how does anybody know that he or she has a kidney disease? I was curious to know.  Dr Adu explained that in about 90 per cent of cases, there is never any symptom until the patient loses about 80  per cent of the use of his or her kidneys.  By that time, the symptoms that rear their head include tiredness, swollen legs and face as well as vomiting. Diabetes and high blood pressure are two common causes of renal failure. People with diabetes and hypertension are therefore often advised to have regular checks on their kidneys.

Although kidney transplant may cost a little more upfront than what one will pay for going on a dialysis, the  cost of a transplant is less.  Besides, a transplant patient can lead a normal life and even get back to full-time work.  

From all indications, kidney transplant has come to stay and to save lives.  The challenge, however, will be the ease of getting donors.   Unlike blood donation where blood is preserved at a 'bank' for later use, according to Dr Adu, a kidney's lifespan once taken out, is less than 30 minutes.  He was of the view that 'live donor transplant' is the way forward for kidney transplant in Ghana.  

Elsewhere, the operation of a donor registry makes it possible for people to voluntarily register to donate their organs for transplants.   Patients needing kidney transplants in Ghana will have to depend on first degree relatives as donors.  

Public education

 For the three transplants performed by the UK team with the support of their Ghanaian counterparts the donors were a brother, a wife and a father.  The lucky recipients were all men.  

The issue of kidney donors would have to be given attention in the coming months.  The mention of surgery puts fright in many.  Indeed, surgery is something many Ghanaians would prefer not to hear about.  Yet they are life-saving alternatives.   

A lot of public education needs to be done by the Kidney Centre on live donor transplants.    Kidney donation must be seen and accepted as an act of saving a precious life.  It is time to begin the effective use of the mass media and other health platforms to sensitise the public to donating one of their kidneys to save someone who has lost the use of both.

Great teamwork with a lot of sacrifices has made it possible for three individuals and their families  to rejoice.  Three lucky souls out of the reported 100 renal sufferers on kidney dialysis in Ghana have been given new leases of life.  

The 11-member UK team from Birmingham led by Dr Andrew Ready are committed to training the Ghana team led by Dr Charlotte Osafo to enable them to continue the good work started.   Dr  Adu, the co-leader of the team from Queen Elizabeth Teaching Hospital, is very positive that they will be back to work with Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital over a three-year period.  Our commendations go to the Korle-Bu Administration, the Ghanaian team and the 11-member UK team for bringing hope  to renal patients.

 I could not let Dr Adu go without getting his views on the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS).  He highly commended the scheme saying it is a fantastic system which every Ghanaian should join.  'No one will put their car on the road without an insurance, so why your health?' he asked.  

He did not see the sense in anyone refusing to invest in the National Health Insurance Scheme and passionately advised his country men and women to consider joining if they have not already joined.  Coming from a medical practitioner who resides in a country that has operated a national health insurance scheme for over 50 years, Dr Adu's advice is worth considering.

Feature By Vicky Wireko

Daily Graphic
Daily Graphic, © 2008

This author has authored 236 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: DailyGraphic

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