In the last 20 years, chronic kidney disease “of unknown origin” has killed up to 20,000 people and sickened as many as 400,000 more in a poor rural area of Sri Lanka. The disease strikes farmers – who are their families’ breadwinners – in the prime of life. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports nearly 15% of people of the region’s Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, and Badulla Districts aged 15-70 years are affected, with approximately 13 people dying of the disease daily.
The Salvation Army World Service Office (SAWSO) is working to change these statistics by sponsoring outreach education and mobile screening clinics in Polonnaruwa District, an area identified by the Government as being underserved due to the severity of the disease.
Salvation Army staff work to detect the disease early, when its progress can be reversed by treatment, by offering urinary protein and blood glucose testing to gauge residents’ potential risk or current level of kidney damage. For those at risk or with elevated levels, the Army provides referrals to the local district hospital, where a kidney specialist provides treatment which can include dialysis for advanced cases.
According to Lisa Firth, Health Technical Advisor with SAWSO, possible contributors to the kidney failure are contaminated water and dehydration from field work in the hot climate, although researchers have yet to determine the exact cause. Locally, The Salvation Army has been offering preventative services by helping residents clean their wells after flooding and through water distribution.
“We’re encouraged by the difference being made by the highly committed Salvation Army team in Polonnaruwa District,” said Firth. “When I visited in October 2014, they had tested more than 6,000 people and referred 497 who tested positive for medical care.”
Suraj Rangana, a resident of Polonnaruwa, was 29 years old when he suffered a wound on his left foot that would not properly heal, even with treatment from the local hospital. Married with two children, he was soon unemployed due to the disability and worrying about how to provide for his family and his children’s education.
Around the same time, the Salvation Army Mobile Medical Clinic came to his neighborhood where personnel conducted a blood test which confirmed he had chronic kidney disease. Government-funded dialysis was available, but traveling to the area’s General Hospital for treatment twice a week created burdens of both time and cost. Within five months from the time of his diagnosis, a relative agreed to donate a kidney and Rangana underwent a transplant that changed his life.
Now serving as an employee of the Safe Water and Livelihood Development Project of The Salvation Army in Polonnaruwa, Rangana is overcome with gratitude.
“During a time of deep stress and frustration, my only happiness, joy, and contentment came through The Salvation Army,” said Rangana. “My only desire is to give hope to another person through The Salvation Army’s community work and to prevent individuals from taking the ‘painful road’ that I traveled.”
As of March 2015, more than 20,000 people have been screened for the disease, 1,500 tested positive, and approximately 700 referred to the General Hospital.
“At SAWSO, we are committed to working faithfully with those in communities around the world where The Salvation Army serves to bring healing and avert preventable illness.” said Firth. “We are so thankful for our donors and the medical staff who make life-saving programs such as this one possible.”