Dialysis treatment for kidney patients remains expensive internationally, but a local medical facility is making it more affordable and accessible for Vincentians.
Health Solutions Inc. has been offering dialysis treatment in St. Vincent and the Grenadines for the past year.
The clinic, located at Beachmont on the outskirts of Kingstown, is headed by Canadian registered nurse, Pauline Garabedian.
Garabedian, a registered nurse who is married to a Vincentian, has worked in the profession for 14 years in North America and the Caribbean.
She said that since coming to St. Vincent, six years ago, she and her children have had to return to Canada for medical attention from time to time.
During that time, she also learnt that dialysis services were needed but not available here.
A family that had a member with kidney disease had previously started private dialysis services.
The family got a dialysis machine and set it up at a clinic in Arnos Vale.
But the disease ran its course and the patient died.
Garabedian’s family took over, bought more machines and moved the clinic to Beachmont, where it now treats nine patients several times a week.
She told I-Witness News that dialysis is very expensive, and the EC$500 her clinic charges for each session is the lowest rate in the region.
Garabedian explained that the progression of kidney disease is measured in five stages, with Stage 1 being a healthy kidney.
At Stage 5, she said, a person has lost 85 per cent of their kidney function and needs dialysis.
Several conditions, including diabetes and hypertension can contribute to the loss of kidney function.
“There are quite a few diseases out there that would cause kidney disease…” Garabedian said, adding that proper diet is important to reducing the chances of developing kidney disease.
The healthcare professional addressed the perception of persons with kidney disease.
“The perception is that kidney patients are going to die anyway so why invest a huge chunk of money [in dialysis]. But what isn’t being said is that patients with kidney disease can live a very long time. They have the option of even getting [a transplant],” she told I-Witness News.
She explained that a person who gets a transplant and takes care of their body can live for many years, adding that some of her patients have been on dialysis for over seven years.
“They get their dialysis treatment, they get the medical regime that has been prescribed for them, and also they live a comfortable life,” Garabedian explained.
“Our patients go to work, our patients go to school, our patients do everything that a normal person does,” she said.
She said that kidney failure is a huge problem around the world, and noted that in the year since her clinic began operating, it has nine regular patients.
Among the persons who have used the service are nationals who had not returned to the country for years because of the absence, previously, of dialysis treatment available to the public.
All patients who follow the dietary regime and manage their blood pressure, can live a long time, she further said.
She said while dialysis is very costly, “Vincentians have been very giving.
“A lot of our patients have friends, family, just people who don’t know somebody [and donate to them].”
Patients themselves work or raise funds through barbeques, etc.
Patients need a minimum of two sessions of dialysis a week, although the ideal is three sessions.
Garabedian said she is hoping to start a foundation and maybe with a few functions every year, it may be able to raise some money to help patients.
She said while neither the clinic, nor patients, expect the Government to pay their medical bills, some consideration should be given to a subsidy.
“Even if they are going to pick up two, three sessions a month, that is a relief. You have to give and take a little bit and the patients know it. They know that dialysis is expensive. … They understand, but any help is better nothing.”
The clinic currently has a staff of four, including Garabedian.
It has six dialysis machines and most of its patients are referred by the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital.
Signs of kidney disease
Garabedian said that persons who are diabetic or hypertensive should ideally have their kidneys checked every six months.
The number one symptom of kidney disease is swelling of hands, feet, or face.
Other signs include frothy urine, decreased urine output, and foul smelling urine, she said.
Stages 4 and 5might include nausea, vomiting, or a metallic taste in the mouth.
“We want to get people when they are at Stage 3 and Stage 4 and educate them so that we can try to slow down the process before it gets to Stage 5 very quickly,” she said.