A team of health professionals at the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital (KBTH) has performed kidney transplants on two patients, the first such operation by a local team in Ghana.
The Ghanaian team, including specialist doctors, nurses and anaesthetists, performed the procedures on 4 and 5 July this year and the patients, both of them males, are recovering at the facility.
Their donors, who are females, are also doing well and have been discharged.
Two foreigners – a theatre technician and a transplant surgeon – were on hand, acting as confidence boosters for the team.
Each operation is estimated to cost US$21,000. The operations were sponsored by the First Sky Group, an indigenous private company. The hospital is expected to perform three additional operations next month with sponsorship by the First Sky Group.
The breakthrough will save patients a great deal of money, as many had resorted to either India or South Africa for such operations at a cost of more than US$250,000.
At a media briefing to announce the success chalked up by the KBTH and its team of professionals, a urologist, Professor Mathew Kyei, said after accessing its capacity as a facility, the hospital found that it could perform three operations monthly. As such, although six people have been prepared for surgery, only three operations will be undertaken next month. Currently, he said, there were about 1,000 people on dialysis at various hospitals across the country. However, at KBTH, the First Sky Group sponsors 250 patients to go through dialysis three times every week.
The head of the department of surgery at KBTH, Professor James Edward Mensah, who gave an update on the two patients, said their bodies had responded well to the transplant and that 24 hours after the first surgery, the first patient started producing urine. This was a good sign that his body had aligned with the new kidney, Professor Mensah said.
He said so far, an ethical committee, made up of surgeons, lawyers, and other professionals, had been put in place to come up with guidelines to ensure that the hospital did not run into any legal tussle over its kidney transplant operations. The committee, Professor Mensah said, will make sure that donors are adequately counselled and briefed and also ensure that there is no financial coercion involved.
First Sky Group
The executive chairman of First Sky Group, Eric Seddy Kutortse, said at the briefing that since 2016 his company has been supporting patients at KBTH to undergo dialysis and has so far spent GHC30 million on this quest.
Also, he said earlier, the group has sponsored three patients to undergo kidney transplants in India, at a cost of $250,000 for each patient and their donors.
Kutortse added that a team from Birmingham in the United Kingdom was brought into Ghana in 2019 to perform four kidney transplant operations.
He explained that because of the high cost of the procedure, the group decided to support KBTH to undertake local kidney transplants to reduce the expense and also to help more people benefit from free kidney transplants.
The executive chairman of First Sky Group gave the assurance that his group will continue to provide free dialysis to beneficiaries at KBTH and free kidney transplants to beneficiaries who meet the KBTH criteria for surgery.
Kutortse said First Sky Group, together with KBTH, has put in place a working committee to establish an ultra-modern kidney transplant centre, which would be fully funded by the company.
The head of nephrology at KBTH, Professor Vincent Boima, who set out the advantages of renal transplant, said Ghana was one of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa with the highest burden of kidney diseases.
He said the youth were most affected, with an age range of 20 to 50. Though kidney disease is preventable, not much has been done about this.
Professor Boima declared that kidney failure is a silent disease, caused mostly by lifestyle and the environment.
Most patients, he said, do not know about their status until the later stages of the disease, which then requires them to undergo dialysis three times every week.
The KBTH head of nephrology said transplants are cost-effective, allowing patients to go back to a normal life, but because they cannot be done in Ghana, surgery ends up hugely increasing the cost for patients, who generally have to travel with their donors.
Professor Boima said the ultimate aim of KBTH is to ensure that no patient travels outside Ghana for a kidney or any other kind of transplant. “We have the team, we have the men,” he said.
The chief executive officer of KBTH, Dr Opoku Ware Ampomah, who spoke on the future of transplantation in KBTH, said the facility has one of the best qualified human resource bases on the continent. However, he said, resourcing remains a challenge, led to many African professionals leaving the continent in droves for greener pastures.
Dr Opoku Ware Ampomah said to ensure that transplantation has legal backing in Ghana, KBTH is rooting for the development of a legal framework for organ donation and harvesting so that people can donate their organs when they die.
Currently, although KBTH can perform cornea transplantation, it has to import the corneas, a situation that could easily be resolved, Dr Ampomah said, if there is legislation in place.
“The skills are there, expertise is there, but we need an enabling environment for transplant services,” he said.
The KBTH chief executive commended First Sky Group for its support to KBTH to help kidney patients, adding that only a few patients could afford the surgery.