Anastasia Cunningham, News Coordinator
Driven by a passion to effectively treat and save the lives of children with chronic kidney disease in Jamaica, Dr Maolynne Miller says $80 million is urgently needed to construct a fully functional paediatric dialysis centre at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) in St Andrew.
"There is a serious problem in Jamaica with children with kidney disease. Granted, there are not as many children with kidney disease as heart disease, but children with heart disease potentially can have a repair and that's done. But children with kidney disease, even if they get a transplant, need monitoring for life. They are never free of the hospital," said the paediatrician and paediatric nephrologist, who is also director of the Jamaica Kidney Kids Foundation Limited.
"All life is sacred despite the disease and the numbers associated with that disease," Miller said. "And it is not just children with chronic kidney failure that need dialysis, there are a number of instances where dialysis is needed as well for both acute and chronic problems."
Dialysis acts as an artificial kidney, either through haemodialysis, where the blood is filtered through a machine, or peritoneal dialysis, where body wastes are removed by the exchange of fluid in the abdomen.
Between 1985 and 2006, 30 of the 48 children diagnosed with chronic kidney failure died because of a lack of dialysis.
Miller said it was only a few years ago that they were able to start saving the lives of children younger than 12 years through dialysis, which they were only able to do by sharing the dialysis machines at the adult Peritoneal Dialysis Unit and the Haemodialysis Unit, both at UHWI.
However, the children have to rely on the availability of the machines and uncomfortably share the cramped space on the wards with the approximate 100 adult patients.
The doctor said the Jamaica Kidney Kids Foundation, founded in July last year, has already got a commitment from Bridge of Life Davita Medical Missions to equip the facility with dialysis machines, water treatment plant, among other necessities, as well as provide technical support. However the offer expires early next year, which makes the need for the paediatric dialysis centre even greater.
"This is such a once-in-a-lifetime offer. We already have the site and an organisation ready to fully equip the centre, all we need is a building. I have been making pleas in several circles but we aren't getting anywhere in finding a donor," said the doctor, who is based at UHWI.
"What we have done now is create an architectural plan of a complete kidney centre, combining the paediatric centre with the adult wing, expanding on it. The paediatric centre will have its own wing and the adults another. We would now be able to accommodate many more patients in a spacious, comfortable and pleasant environment. So we have gone ahead in good faith and prayer to put a plan together, we just need the money to start."
Miller said the kidney centre would not only be for dialysis, but would be a full-service facility, being able to also perform transplant procedures. Additionally, the centre would also provide early detection and successful treatment of certain types of kidney disease, such as nephritis, and have a support group for affected families.
The paediatric wing would also be specially designed to include areas for recreation and homework, among other features.
Noting that there is also a need for more paediatric nephrologists, specialised nurses as well as dialysis/kidney treatment centres across the island, Miller said eventually they would spread their wings to central points across Jamaica.
There are now at least 40 children aged 16 years and younger living with chronic kidney disease in the island. Most are between four and nine years old, six of which are now on dialysis. Each year, three to six children will be diagnosed with chronic kidney failure.