RWANDA— The Ministry of Health, Rwanda has announced that surgeons at King Faisal Hospital (KFH) together with a visiting team of American surgeons performed three living donor kidney transplants.

MOH Rwanda assured the Rwandan public that the program would run monthly, with the visiting surgeons working with the KFH team for the next two years, and from there, the complex surgical procedure will be handled by KFH.

The launch of the medical service is in line with the Rwandan government’s efforts to reduce costly medical referrals abroad.

The Ministry noted that over the past seven years, 67 Rwandan patients were transferred abroad for kidney transplants, costing approximately US$800,000 or more than US$11,552 million per patient.

This collaborative effort aims to transfer knowledge, skills, and expertise to the local specialists, enabling them to independently manage and sustain the program in the long run.

By empowering local medical professionals and nurturing their capabilities in complex care procedures such as kidney transplants, Rwanda is building a self-reliant healthcare system that can cater to the needs of its population effectively.

The hospital noted that the development gives hope to patients and their families.

“This accomplishment underscores the importance of investing in quality healthcare services that transform lives. Our sincere gratitude to the Government of Rwanda for investing in this noble healthcare cause,” the hospital remarked on its social media platforms.

The complex medical operations were years in the making, entailing the hospital installing key equipment, upgrading the site for dialysis (as a treatment to help kidney failure patients’ bodies to filter and purify blood), and setting up a recovery room.

The hospital is also operating subspecialty fellowship programs through the University of Rwanda’s School of Medicine and Pharmacy, in nephrology (a branch of medicine dealing with kidney care, disease diagnosis, and treatment) and renal transplant surgery, which aims to increase health professionals in highly specialized areas.

The Rwanda Parliament with support from the MOH Rwanda, in March 2023 in anticipation of the operations, passed the law on the use of human organs, tissues, and cells, which gives guidelines on the process of organ donation by Rwandans aged 18 years and above.

Furthermore, a delegation from Rwanda visited Ann Arbor in early December to benchmark their facilities and meet with leaders in nephrology and surgery at the University of Michigan Medical Services (UMMS).

Correspondingly, the leaders from (UMMS) visited Rwanda and signed a Memorandum of Understanding to cement the partnership on nephrology care and surgery development in the country.

The MOU which is patterned after a similar kidney transplant program UMMS helped establish in Ethiopia.

In Ethiopia, UMMS trained Ethiopian physicians and surgeons and helped to create a nephrology fellowship program at St. Paul’s Millennium Medical College, in Addis Ababa.

That partnership began in 2013, with the first transplants taking place in 2015, three years after that, the program was fully self-sustaining, with Ethiopian doctors performing surgery on their own, providing pre-and post-transplant nephrology care, and teaching the next round of fellows as well.

Chronic Kidney Disease in Africa

According to the National Kidney Foundation, Global Facts about Kidney Disease, Africa now faces the dual challenge of infectious illnesses and chronic diseases.

Moreover, Chronic kidney disease (CKD) in Africa and sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) with a prevalence of 15.8% and 17.7%, respectively in the general population.

The prevalence of CKD in Rwanda ranged from 4% to 24%, based predominantly on proteinuria as a marker.

Strategies to reduce the burden of CKD include increasing public awareness of the gravity of the disease and its risk factors through health education, availing opportunities for early detection and screening, targeting the prevention of obesity, diabetes, and hypertension, and effective treatment.

According to a BMC Nephrology study, given the constant rise in its risk factors in Africa, CKD is increasingly recognized as a major public health threat, against a background of limited access to renal replacement therapy (RRT).

Hence, in Africa, prevention, and early detection of CKD to slow its progression are of paramount importance.

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