Kidney patients in Gweru and surrounding areas have welcomed the recent opening of a renal unit at the Gweru Provincial Hospital, the Midlands province's biggest referral hospital.
The development, they say, brings relief as it means they do not have to drive to Harare three times a week to sustain their lives.
Motsi Dhewa is a woman in her early fifties. She was diagnosed with chronic renal failure early 2004.The disease means that Mrs. Dhewa's kidneys are not able to clear the toxic waste in her blood as they ought to.
A person who suffers from chronic kidney failure can be treated through what is known in medical terms as renal replacement therapy.
Doctors say the therapy can be done in three ways. The first is through life-long sessions on a haemo-dialysis machine which removes waste and extra fluids and returns the clean blood into the body.
The second method is through kidney transplant in which a patient gets healthy kidneys from donors. The third alternative is through what is known as peritoneal dialysis in which a permanent tube is placed in the stomach and waste products are flushed through the tube.
For nearly ten years since the diagnosis Mrs. Dhewa, a Gweru resident, has had to travel regularly either to Harare or Bulawayo for sessions on the dialysis machine.
She's relieved that she can now have her dialysis sessions closer to home at the recently established renal unit at the Gweru Provincial Hospital.
Gweru Provincial Hospital superintendent Dr. Fabian Mashingaidze says the renal unit which started operating mid-January, has four dialysis machines, and was established through a public-private partnership with a South African company.
The hospital charges a fee of $100 per session which the country's two other government hospitals of Parirenyatwa in Harare and Mpilo in Bulawayo also charge for similar treatment. Private hospitals charge a minimum of $200 per session.
Although he could not immediately say how many people are diagnosed with renal failure at any given time at the Gweru Provincial Hospital, Dr. Mashingaidze said the establishment of the renal unit would help many people throughout the Midlands province.
Information released by World Health Organisation in 2012, ranks chronic kidney disease as 14th among Zimbabwe's top 50 killer diseases.
Another patient, who is also happy to be using the new renal unit, is Andrew Mude. Mude, also a Gweru resident, was diagnosed with chronic kidney failure last year.
Mude, who used to travel to Harare for his dialysis sessions, says the trips were costly and tiresome.
“It was so difficult having to travel to Harare during odd hours, You can imagine having to spend five hours travelling to Harare, five hours on the dialysis machine and five hours travelling back from Harare. This means I would spend a total of 15 hours travelling and receiving treatment. I often had to travel at night as the dialysis sessions would sometimes at night and I would then travel back to Gweru getting there early in the morning.”
Medical experts say although it is cheaper to treat chronic renal patients through kidney transplants, a major problem in developing countries like Zimbabwe is that there are no nephrologists or kidney specialists.
Other problems are that some patients may contract the AIDS virus or other diseases during dialysis sessions and that the machines often go into disrepair as a result of not having qualified personnel to use them properly.
Fight Makwalo was diagnosed with chronic renal failure in 2012. Makwalo says as chronic kidney failure is a life-long disease and therefore government needs to consider helping the patients to access free treatment like it does those living with HIV/Aids.
Another patient, Shadreck Moyo, agrees adding that government must put in place measures to ensure that the country has specialists who can treat the disease.
“In Harare I was being treated by someone who has worked in the UK. I am made to understand that chronic renal failure patients there get their treatment for free. There is such a benefit and government should consider having the same here. The patients would buy their own consumables and medicine and this would be a major step forward.”
Gweru-born Bernard Musesengwe, who is pursuing his post-graduate studies in Britain, was diagnosed with chronic kidney failure last year.
Musesengwe says after undergoing haemo-dialysis treatment for eight months, he later had a transplant there in Britain.
But until the country has the needed experts most ordinary Zimbabweans who suffer from chronic kidney ailments will have to rely on dialysis machines for their survival.