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The DHA MediClinic Al Tawar Dialysis Centre in Dubai opened in December 2021 to meet growing demand from patients Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Dubai: Khadim Ghuloom Mohammad Al Blooshi is a relieved man today. The 64-year-old Emirati has been receiving dialysis for his end-stage kidney disease for over seven years at Dubai Hospital.

However, since December 2021, Blooshi, a resident of the Al Twar neighbourhood of Dubai, has not felt the strain of travelling all the way to Dubai Hospital three times a week for four-hour haemodiaysis sessions. He has been walking into the new state-of-the art Dialysis Centre that opened six months ago in Al Twar.

“I feel so relieved. In the last six months, I have had little trouble coming for my dialysis here. This has been a real boon for me,” Al Blooshi told Gulf News.

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Khadim Al Blooshi no longer has to travel far for this treatment Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Meanwhile, every other morning, Ahmed Mohammad Abdulla Al Jassmi, 53, a resident of Al Twar, comes to the dialysis centre, as he requires haemodialysis three times a week. Spending four to five hours at the centre on alternative days has endeared Al Jassmi to the staff.

“I am so happy to have this centre so close to my home. It is so spacious, and well-lit; it feels good to come here and when I leave, I do so cheerfully,” said Al Jassmi, who began coming to this centre the moment it opened.

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Ahmed Al Jassmi is one of the first patients of the centre Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

For Algerian national Omran Teqouq, 59, getting dialysis in this relaxed and spacious facility has made the process very smooth. “I have diabetes and have been getting dialysis for over six years now. Ever since I began coming to this centre, life has been much easier,” said Tequoq, a Dubai resident for 25 years.

What is dialysis?

Dialysis is a procedure whereby waste products and excess fluid are removed from the blood when the kidneys stop working well. It usually involves diverting blood to a machine in order to be cleaned. During the procedure, a tube is attached to a needle in the arm. Blood passes along the tube and into a machine that filters it out before passing it back into the arm through another tube. This is called haemodialysis, which is the more common type of the two forms of dialysis. In the other type of dialysis – called peritoneal – the inside lining of the abdomen is employed as the filter instead of the machine.

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Most patients at the centre are referred from DHA’s Dubai Hospital or from private hospitals Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Growing demand

In order to address the growing demand for the procedure, Dubai Health Authority (DHA) entered into a unique public-private-partnership with Mediclinic to open two dialysis centres in 2021. The Al Barsha Centre began operations in May 2021 while the Al Twar Centre opened in December 2021. There are 93 patients like Al Blooshi, Tequoq and Al Jassmi who have experienced much relief at these neighbourhood dialysis centres, instead of going to Dubai Hospital – or any private hospital – with lesser number of dialysis machines and long waiting times.

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Nearly 30 patients are treated at the centre daily Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

The centre caters to both Emiratis and expats. Most patients are referred from DHA’s Dubai Hospital or from private hospitals. A dialysis costs anything between Dh900 and 1,200 per session, depending on the package of the patient. Many come in directly with an insurance cover and there are self–pay patients too. There are 10 machines for VIPs as well.

Sensitive to needs

At the Al Twar facility, there is a special emphasis on providing the service to expatriates who are unable to afford the cost of dialysis, and so are supported by charities. Since it opened in December 2021, the number of dialysis patients at the Al Twar Dialysis Centre rose to 93, an exponential rise that reflects the dire need of such centres in the community.

Providing an exclusive tour of the Al Twar facility, Ana Grilo, who is the dialysis manager for both the facilities, said: “These facilities were started keeping in mind the growing need for dialysis centres in Dubai. While the large unit in Al Barsha was inaugurated in May 2021, the Al Twar unit was inaugurated in December 2021, keeping in mind the dialysis patients from other northern emirates who find it easier to come here. Nearly 30 per cent of the 40 dialysis machines at Al Twar are reserved for underprivileged patients who come through charity organisations to us.”

The Al Twar facility has about 11 nurses, three nephrologists and other staff working in two shifts. Registered patients take appointments and are able to reserve a time as per their need.

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In addition to dialysis, both the Al Twar and Al Barsha Centres cater to the comprehensive needs of the dialysis patients, with clinics for heart, vascular and diabetes Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Forming friendships

The process of haemodialysis takes about four hours. The shifts have been designed in a manner where there is time to clean the machines between two shifts. In the last six months, patients have formed endearing relationships with the staff and other patients.

Grilo said: “Our facility opens at 8am, however, very often patients come in at 7am and share their karak chai, coffee and bagel with the others. They are very comfortable with the staff and each other. When people spend four hours thrice a week together, it is only natural to form such friendships. Many of our nurses are from Dubai Hospital and have been in touch with the same patients for years.

“Many have been on dialysis for years and the nurses have forged bonds with their extended families. In our renal education classes we hold, we create more awareness of renal disease for the entire family so the future generations are more vigilant, informed and careful.”

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A view of the reception area Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Additional clinics

In addition to dialysis, both the Al Twar and Al Barsha Centres cater to the comprehensive needs of the dialysis patients, with clinics for heart, vascular and diabetes. Most patients have Chronic Kidney Diseases (CKD) in combination with one or more of these organs.

Elaborating on the need for the society to have awareness of CKS, Dr Anil Kumar Saxena told Gulf News: “There is a need for regular screening of kidneys and monitoring of the Glomerular Filtration Rate [GFR].”

How kidney disease occurs

Dr Saxena added: “GFR is a blood test to measure the rate of filtration of your kidneys per minute which should be ideally between 70 and 90. Our kidneys filter 180 litres of blood every day, of which about one per cent is metabolised into urine, which is about 1.5-1.8 litres per day. Owing to chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, congenital kidney disease or undetected kidney stones, which slowly destroy the nephrons, the GFR progressively falls as the kidneys are damaged. There are five stages of kidney disease and its only in the fifth stage when the GFR falls to 10 or less that a patient requires dialysis, where the machine performs the job of filtration externally.”

Awareness needed

Dr Saxena pointed out that younger people need to be careful about their lifestyle, go for regular screening, adopt active lifestyles, keep themselves well hydrated (to avoid formation of kidney stones). With better awareness and action, it might be possible to control kidney disease in about 40 per cent of the population as 20 per cent of the dialysis patients come due to damage from diabetes or hypertension and another 20 per cent have damage from undetected kidney stones. The rest of the patients are those with congenital kidney disease.”

Life-long dialysis

Dr Iman Guermeh and Dr Khalid Mazeena also pointed out the need for these dialysis centres. “Right now we have at least 30 patients on dialysis each day at Al Twar and a larger number at the Al Barsha centre. Dialysis can continue life-long. Kidney transplants, whether live or donor, depend on the availability of the donor organ and the tissue match,” said Dr Guermeh.

Dr Mazeena said: “We conduct elaborate tests to examine the edibility of the recipient for a donor organ. Not all patients qualify for it. Those with other chronic diseases such as Cardio Vascular Disease and advanced age usually do not qualify. These patients have to be on dialysis for the rest of their lives. Even those who do qualify for transplant are added to the list and have to continue with the dialysis until the time a compatible organ is available.”