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Kidney Int. 2006 Sep;70(6):1107-14. Epub 2006 Aug 2.

The dangers of rationing dialysis treatment: the dilemma facing a developing country.

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Department of Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Stellenbosch and Renal Unit, Tygerberg Academic Hospital, Cape Town, South Africa.


The increasing burden of chronic kidney disease places enormous strains on resources of all countries, but especially of those with emerging economies. Few developing countries are able to afford dialysis programs and those that do ration this scarce resource. In South Africa, rationing has been practiced since the introduction of dialysis. Our renal unit carefully screened patients with end-stage kidney disease (ESKD) based on certain medical and socioeconomic criteria. The outcome of these decisions taken by the Assessment Committee is reviewed in this study. Details of the 2442 patients with ESKD assessed between 1988 and 2003 for the renal replacement program were captured. Using univariate and multivariate analysis, the odds of being accepted for treatment based on several variables were determined. The majority (52.7%) of patients with ESKD were not offered renal replacement therapy in the period of study. The number of kidney transplants progressively decreased, as did the number of patients accepted. The patients mostly likely to be accepted for renal replacement therapy were aged 20-40 years, white, employed, married, non-diabetic, and lived in proximity to a dialysis center. Almost 60% of patients were denied renal replacement treatment because of social factors related to poverty. In a developing country, where rationing of treatment is unavoidable, it is difficult to ensure equity of treatment and certain groups are advantaged over others. In our experience, socioeconomic factors influenced decision to accept patients more profoundly than medical ones.

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