This is a touching story about a young man. Although it is a personal matter in one sense, it is about a problem common to certain communities of this country. Therefore, I hide the true identity of the protagonists of this story.
Let’s call him Thilak. He was born in a divisional secretariat area of Anuradhapura district where Chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown Aetiology (CKDu) is omnipresent. He had to undergo a kidney transplant 17 years ago. The donor was a close relative. It was a time the government hospitals lacked facilities for large number of kidney transplants. Therefore, the operation was done in a private hospital. The cost was around seven or eight lakhs which was far from the family’s economic capability. Rs. 350,000 was given by the Presidential Fund. They had to borrow money.
Thilak was a small businessman who prepared savoury food and sold them in fairs. Now he is fully recovered and leads almost a normal life. He is very careful about his health and regularly takes medicine. Once a month, he attends the renal clinic. Now he is near 50 years old.
Thilak’s illness created deep-rooted scars and his family had to face utmost economic difficulties which they have still failed to fuly recover. They still live in a rented house. Thilak has a son and two daughters. While the poor family was struggling with debt, Thilak's elder son grew up with his grandparents from his childhood. Let’s call this boy Amal.
Amal’s uncle, mother’s younger brother, was about 12 years older than him. The uncle worked hard to earn money to spend for Amal’s education. His teachers also helped him. Amal passed G.C.E. Advanced Level examination with good results but it was not sufficient for university entrance in commerce stream.
After Advanced Level examination, Amal followed a technical course on electronics and joined a well-known retailer of electrical appliances. He worked there for about one and half years. He was a healthy young man with well-built physique. Now he is 25 years old.
One day, Amal fell seriously ill while working and vomited several times. He was admitted to hospital and after a series of medical tests, it was diagnosed that both his kidneys were defunct. He was suddenly diagnosed as another CKDu patient. There are tens of thousands of such patients in Sri Lanka’s dry zone districts like Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Vavuniya and Kurunegala. Even after a number of researches, the cause for the chronic renal disease is still a mystery and a permanent cure or prevention is not be seen in the horizon. Day by day, the number of cases increase and the patients are slowly dying.
Since three months, Amal travels twice a week on train to the National Nephrology Dialysis and Renal Transplant Centre in Colombo for life-saving dialysis. He requires an immediate kidney transplant.
Although selling of human organs is illegal in Sri Lanka, in the context of CKDu is so common, it is no secret that kidneys are traded. The stories of these ‘donors’ are also pathetic. The prime reason for them to sell their organs is poverty. There are rackets of trading and robbing human organs.
The person who has come forward to ‘donate’ a kidney suitable for Amal wants one million rupees for it. Pathetically, the spouse of this person has also ‘donated’ one of his kidneys for Rs. 500,000 few years ago.
Amal’s surgery will be done in a state hospital free of charge. But there are additional costs for medical tests and equipment. Amal’s relatives say that they will have to raise about 1.5 to 2 million rupees for all these expenses. They are now working hard for that.
This is a drama wound around the life of a 25-years-old young man. Can his relations and friends look away while Amal is dying? Is it wrong from their side to try their best to find a practical solution for Amal's illness?
Amal is just one of many thousands of Sri Lankans who face similar fate. Tens of thousands of children, young persons, adults and elderly men and women are suffering from CKDu. The problems that are intertwined with this disease push the families into utmost economic and social difficulties. It is not mere health problem but a serious social issue.
(Thanks for the photo) V.G. Karunawathie, a patient suffering from a chronic kidney disease of unknown etiology, rests after returning home from a dialysis session at a nearby hospital. AP/Eranga Jayawardena