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Liver patients to wait longer for KNH transplant facility

Liver patients will still need to spend about Sh9 million abroad for a transplant despite Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) having bought equipment for the operation.

The referral hospital in Nairobi on January 9 announced it had bought a liver aspirator machine for transplants, making Kenya the third country in Africa to have capacity to perform transplant of the vital organ at between Sh1 million and Sh3 million.

But KNH has put a damper on the excitement with the revelation that it needs another Sh300 million for training and special Intensive Care Unit to make the operation possible in Kenya.

Dr Kennedy Ondede, consultant physician in charge of the liver transplant unit at the hospital, reckons that infrastructure needed to support the transplant machine is not ready.

“We are looking at a time frame of between six months to a year before we can begin,” he said.

Egypt and South Africa are the other African countries with capacity to handle liver transplants.

A liver transplant is an operation done to remove a diseased or damaged liver and replaced with a healthy one from a donor.

HARVESTING OF ORGANS

Globally, the bulk of the transplants involve livers from non-living donors.

Dr Ondede said another hindrance to the speedy start of the transplants is the lack of an enabling legal framework.

He said Kenya is yet to enact laws that guide the harvesting of various body tissues from live or dead donors for medical use.

Currently, the law only allows relatives of a patient to donate body parts such as kidneys for transplant surgeries.

Dr Ondede said a draft medical Bill containing these revisions had been submitted to the Ministry of Health and is awaiting approval by Parliament.

“The faster this is done, the easier it will be for us to begin the transplants,” he said.

KNH has reported a rise in liver diseases that are linked to excess alcohol use, Hepatitis B virus and eating food contaminated with aflatoxin.

The hospital receives about 15 patients weekly with end stage liver disease. About 80 per cent of them die since they cannot afford liver transplant surgery, which costs between Sh8m to 10 million abroad.