“I am just waiting to restart my life,” 37-year-old Saurin Saha tells Vibes of India as the air conditioner spews blasts of cold air in the sparse bedroom of the 2BHK flat that he is currently renting with his family in Gujarat’s Nadiad while he awaits his kidney treatment to conclude.Shah has been in Nadiad for almost three months now and is slated to undergo surgery for kidney failure this month.
Like the Kolkata resident, several others suffering from similar severe kidney ailments flock to this tiny Gujarat town in hopes of getting the right, affordable and best treatment.
“Earlier, I underwent an operation in Kolkata but didn’t get the desired results. My friends suggested that I go to Nadiad and seek help,” says Saha, as he squirms visibly in pain. He is accompanied by his wife who is also his kidney donor; he is currently under medical observation.
Saha and his wife are staying in a 2BHK house just a kilometre away from Muljibhai Patel Urological Hospital (MPUH) where he, and countless others from across the world, are seeking medical intervention for their kidney-related afflictions. The house is owned by a local stockbroker Atul Patel who has set about on a unique philanthropic journey. Patel rents flats and apartments at minimal rates to patients and their families for the duration of their treatment. And he has been doing it for almost two decades.
The two-bedroom flat where Saha is put up may seem like any ordinary home but it is actually set up to suit a kidney patient’s requirements. A medically approved foam mattress, central sanitisation facility, Sodium Hypochlorite liquid to wash the house post-use and the contact number of the owner of the house – Atulbhai – for any emergency.
Patel considers MPUH his temple. He says that whatever he is today, is due to MPUH. “Medical tourism in Nadiad is not a business, it is seva. I rent over seven rooms in different places to kidney patients. I’m a Jain but when foreigners come here we help them with non-vegetarian food and make sure they feel at home.”
Years ago when Patel’s mother had to undergo surgery in MPUH, he faced a lot of difficulties due to the lack of basic facilities for patients and their families. And thus was laid the foundation for his altruistic efforts.
Luxury hotels in the area charge around Rs 3,500 per night while residents like Patel charge anywhere around Rs 300 – 1,000 per room per night. The rooms come equipped with basic utensils, a small gas stove, a fridge and an air conditioner – a must for kidney patients. “Most foreigners who visit Nadiad prefer non-vegetarian food and providing them with a gas stove helps,” says Patel.
In India, Gujarat is estimated to contribute around 25-31% of the medical tourism industry earnings. Gujarat’s medical tourism policy was established in 2006 and since then the state has been working on several such projects and has achieved success in many. Nadiad is one such success model.
Col Dr A K Rastogi, Medical Director at Muljibhai Patel Urological Hospital, explains, “Apart from hotels, the village has over 85 families who rent their room to patients coming from other states. At Muljibhai Patel Urological Hospital, 55% of our patients are from outside Gujarat. And of them, 10% are foreigners. As we speak, a patient from Sierra Leone (West Africa) is admitted to our hospital for a kidney transplant.”
MPUH conducts over 300 surgeries every year. Most patients who come to the hospital are complicated cases where the kidney failure is in stage 4 or stage 5 – the last stages.
The success rate of kidney transplants in India is among the highest in the world. The current rate is around 90%.
MPUH is a not-for-profit academic medical centre devoted to urology and nephrology. The institute set up in 1978 has a 160-bed facility with 6 operation theatres, 44 dialysis stations. It was set up by 1978 under urologist Virendra Desai. The hospital offers Robotic-assisted partial nephrectomy that allows the removal and reconstruction of the kidney through robotic help.
Located about 57 km from Ahmedabad in east-central Gujarat, Nadiad is the birthplace of Vallabhbhai Patel. The village’s official population census is 4,25,000. As you walk through its streets, you see billboards of rental places for kidney patients flanking you on all sides; walk a little further and you might bump into the Kidney Circle – the crossroads boast a kidney-shaped sculpture.
So, what makes people from Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana, Egypt and other African countries flock to Nadiad? The answer is not just treatment. Many students also come to Nadiad for specialisation studies and training in the field. “Unlike other hospitals, we don’t differentiate charges based on nationalities. A kidney operation would cost around Rs 8 lakh ($ 10467.71) for all patients regardless of where they come from. If a patient is not financially well off, we provide them with assistance,” says Dr Rastogi.
The hospital has around 20 urologists and nephrologists. Dr Mahesh Desai, a urologist who has been with MPUH for years, is also a professor at Duke University and Stanford University.
Hope and second chances
For Changan Ram, 28, it started with regular headaches. All the doctors he went to treated him for headaches without trying to go to the root of the problem. The resident of Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, was diagnosed with kidney failure only when it reached a critical stage.
“Nadiad offers several options for stay but for a family like us even Rs 300/day is expensive and Rs 30,000 for dialysis is unaffordable. If we go for a room below Rs 300/day in a rented house, we don’t get the facilities required for a patient suffering from kidney failure.”
The aspiring chartered accountant adds, “There is negligible help available in Rajasthan and therefore I came to Nadiad with my family. If I get well, I aspire to give my CA final exam soon. Now, this town is my only hope.”
Pictures: Hanif Sindhi
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