ABU DHABI // Ten years ago Uma Preman donated one of her kidneys to a child whose life would otherwise have depended on regular dialysis. Ms Preman is the founder of an organisation in India that helps to subsidise the cost of dialysis for poor patients, many of whom are returning workers from the UAE suffering from kidney-related illnesses brought on by long-term dehydration.
Last week she was in the UAE visiting social and cultural organisations, such as the Indian Social Centre, in Sharjah, Dubai and Abu Dhabi to thank those who had provided both monetary and referral-related support. She also distributed educational pamphlets and videos on how to avoid and understand the implications for the kidneys of high blood pressure, diabetes and long-term dehydration. Ms Preman founded the Santhi Medical Information Centre, located in Trichur in the state of Kerala, in 1997, after her husband died of kidney complications due to "delayed and improper diagnosis".
The charity helps link patients with doctors, hospitals and treatments. It also helps with the cost of treatment for those unable to afford it, with donations from the Government such as the prime minister's Relief Fund, as well as corporate and individual donors. Because Indian law allows live kidney donations from family members only, and few people carry donor cards, Ms Preman realised that many people with kidney problems had come to rely on dialysis.
"It is a big problem," she said of the process of verifying the relationship between donor and recipient, and although she helps the rare case with information about transplants, a majority of her work involves dialysis treatments. "Almost nobody can get the permission [for a kidney transplant], so they go on dialysis for life." Most people who come to her, however, cannot afford the cost of dialysis, which is required up to four times a week, and can cost Rs3,000 (Dh230) per session.
She subsidises them more than half that amount, and the patients pay only Rs350. She has up to 50 requests a day from across the country, including returning workers, varying in age from 25 to 40. They may have worked abroad for up to 20 years before returning with kidney-related illnesses. In the most extreme cases, workers had been taken to hospital with dizziness and severe headaches, only to be told that their kidneys were no longer healthy.
Stressing a need for greater awareness, she said: "For those with diabetes, many of them go for years without even knowing they have it. If they go for two to three years without any treatment, it will attack the kidneys." For those who have been diagnosed with diabetes, there is still a risk of kidney failure if "they are not taking proper medication, food and exercise," she said. "Ultimately their kidneys will fail."