For 35-year-old Venugopal S, braving storms has been a way of life. The only son of a house help and a coolie, money was always a problem; he had to drop out of school and fight the odds to become an auto rickshaw driver in Bengaluru. Twelve years ago, he was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease and had to resort to dialysis. And then four years ago, he lost his father, leaving him to take care of his mother.
Through all this, Venugopal has soldiered on. Until the lockdown was announced, that is. Like many daily wage earners, Venugopal’s world turned upside down when it came into effect. Only this time, between his loss of income and dependence on dialysis, Venugopal was not sure he would find a way out.
“With the lockdown in force, a lot of our patients are not in a position to pay anything. So, we started approaching regular donors, corporate supporters and partnering with Give India for crowdsourcing,” – Kartik Sriram, trustee, BKF
Except he – and 300 other dialysis patients in Bengaluru – have done just that; all thanks to the indefatigable efforts of the Bangalore Kidney Foundation (BKF). A charitable non-profit trust established in 1979, BKF has pioneered the treatment of renal disease in Karnataka by providing affordable and high-quality dialysis to the economically disadvantaged (think pushcart and delivery vendors, drivers like Venugopal and those below the poverty line).
Operating out of its dialysis center at the Rangadore Memorial Hospital (RMH), BKF has a total of 65 dialysis machines and has been performing over 3,000 dialysis every month. And while that is remarkable in itself, what makes them stand out even more is the range of efforts they have deployed to ensure that their patients get their dialysis treatment during the lockdown.
Tackling the problems head on
Kartik Sriram, a trustee at BKF, explains the gravity of the situation when he shares how the number of dialysis performed each day went from 120- 125 to 80-90 in the initial days of the lockdown. “This was a dangerous situation as foregoing dialysis can only have adverse effects; not getting regular treatment further weakens the patient’s immune system, leaving one even more vulnerable to Covid19. It spurred us on to do whatever it takes to get the center to function at full capacity.”
“We thankfully have good equipment, maintenance and backup, plus we follow strict sanitation and cleaning schedules for the dialysis machines, beds, rails and surrounding areas after every dialysis,” Dr Shreelakshmi G, senior doctor, BKF
Given how expensive dialysis is – in Bengaluru, most hospitals are said to charge Rs 2,500 to Rs 5,000 per dialysis and typically a patient needs three sessions per week – BKF started out by ramping up its fundraising efforts. “It costs us around Rs 1,100 per dialysis but we charge a maximum of only Rs 750 per dialysis for our needy patients; the difference is subsidised. With the lockdown in force, a lot of our patients are not in a position to pay anything. So, we started approaching regular donors, corporate supporters and partnering with Give India for crowdsourcing. The funds raised will be used to support comprehensive renal care,” points out Kartik.
Next came the need to address their patients’ transport needs: while some like Venugopal could arrange for a pass and travel on their own to the dialysis center, many patients were stranded as they relied solely on public transport. Kartik emphasises how they took stock of the number of patients who needed transportation and arranged them into local clusters. “One of our patrons, Mr Sundaresh, offered us his van and driver to ferry those in need.”
Instituting hygiene protocols
Apart from the above initiatives, the center has also issued letters to patients to facilitate their easy travel. “We thankfully have good equipment, maintenance and backup, plus we follow strict sanitation and cleaning schedules for the dialysis machines, beds, rails and surrounding areas after every dialysis. Our supporting staff is doing a great job in maintaining cleanliness and helping us all stay safe,” says Dr Shreelakshmi G, a senior doctor at the center.
BKF has a total of 65 dialysis machines and has been performing over 3,000 dialysis every month
Following strict hygiene protocols and increasing awareness around it has also put patients’ minds to rest. Dialysis supervisor Avinash Putte Gowda shares how they screened (and continue to screen) all their patients for Covid19 symptoms, collected their travel data and details about any family members who travelled recently. “Anybody with a history of contact with someone who had travelled was (is) put under observation. Also, we are allowing only patients inside the center and making sure all the healthcare staff is equipped with appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).”
Going the extra mile
If meeting transport and dialysis needs wasn’t enough, BKF has also trained its sights on dealing with inadequate nutrition, a predictable outcome of jobs being lost. It has teamed up with social institutions such as Arpana Seva Samasthe and Lions Club to provide their patients (and in some cases, staff as well) with food, milk and medicines.
Thirty-eight-year old pani puri vendor Shivkumaraswamy vouches how the center has gone beyond its dialysis duties. “Due to the lockdown, my business cannot run and I have BKF to thank for providing me with free rations, injections and nutritional supplements, in addition to the dialysis,” he says.
Lauding the efforts of his peers – the BKF team comprises two consulting nephrologists, two full-time doctors, 35 medical workers, 15 support staff and five admin staff, apart from the trustees and honorary directors – Kartik sums it up well when he speaks for his biggest takeaway during these trying times: that people can be incredibly supportive. “With the lockdown extended, we have lots more to do but we are motivated by the resilience of the human spirit.” We are sure Venugopal and Shivkumaraswamy would agree.