Forty-two people comprising of patients and their relatives, and donors gathered in Thimphu to meet with the Home and Cultural Affairs Minister asking for legal measures to find donors and funds for their medical treatment.
One of the patients in need of financial help, Kinley Wangchuk, said the cost of treatment is unaffordable for most of the patients. He said the most effective form of treatment and transplantation comes at a huge cost and that is the reason why patients and their families take loans and mortgages or sell their properties in order to pay for the treatment. He said this pushes a majority of the families into severe poverty.
A kidney recipient, Namgay, said that the patients have to reside near the hospital for six months for mandatory check up after the kidney transplantation is done. He said the expense of living near the hospital is a drain on their funds as the recipients have to rent apartments and the requirement of a healthy diet for the patients calls for more expenditure.
Namgay said that the expenditure borne by the government is insufficient in treating the patients throughout the medical procedure and recovery period.
Most of the patients also shared that the current funding for the patients by the government is insufficient and if individual donation is restricted, the poor patients cannot get treated.
“Restriction on seeking donation has hampered the poor people,” Namgay said. They requested for an increase in the government’s expenditure for the patients.
The misuse of donation funds collected for the purpose of bearing the expenses in treating kidney patients and donors came as a concern to the Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs, after which the ministry stopped the individual donation drives in the country.
During the meeting with the forty-two patients and their relatives and donors, the Home and Cultural Affairs Minister, Damcho Dorji, shared that there is an illegality aspect in collecting donations as the money is used in buying human organs. He said there is a very thin line between compensating and buying or purchasing an organ.
Lyonpo Damcho Dorji said Bhutan, being a party to World Health Organization guidelines on the illegal trafficking of human organs and also party to other international convention on illegal trafficking of human organs, does not support the illegal trafficking of human organs
However, Lyonpo said seeking donation at an individual level would be restricted, but not through the Bhutan Kidney Foundation (BKF). He said BKF can place donation boxes around tourist sites. He said funds can also be raised through fundraiser shows.
Further, Lyonpo said the government will take care of the needy patients and those patients unable to find food and accommodation. He said the possibilities of having a medical specialist to operate on patients in the country using kidneys donated from either deceased donors or living donors is being explored.
In doing so, Lyonpo said that the country would avoid the illegal human organ transaction. “Government cannot give you the permission to seek individual donation but the foundation can seek donation on your behalf,” Lyonpo Damcho Dorji said.
The Executive Director, Bhutan Kidney Foundation, Tashi Namgay, said that the foundation is in the process of registering kidney patients according to their background, after which the donated funds received from various donors will be handed to the needy patients.
As of now, the number of registered of kidney patients with BKF is about 135 and the age ranges from 4 years to 55 years.