Liver transplant: Low cost gives Kerala an edge

By Sanu George,IANS,

Kochi : Not many know that private hospitals here offer liver transplants that are almost 50 percent cheaper than anywhere else in India and six times cheaper than in the West.

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Despite a shortage of surgeons in this field, liver transplant surgery here could be the next big thing in medical tourism, thanks to the cost edge, say doctors. Liver transplantation takes place in two private institutes in Kerala – Amrita Hospital and Lake Shore Hospital – and both are located in this city.

S. Sudhindran, who is a surgeon with Amrita Hospital here, has carried out 74 liver transplants since 2006, with the latest operation taking place just a week ago.

“This is a potential area for medical tourism. I have conducted this surgery on two foreign nationals. The youngest of my patients was an 18-month-old child whose mother was the donor,” Sudhidran told IANS.

Sudhindran said Kerala could soon become the liver transplantation capital of the country because of the cost advantage. He said the surgery costs between Rs.12 lakh and 14 lakh (nearly $26,000) in Kerala while in Delhi patients have to shell out around Rs.25 lakh and in the West around Rs.70 lakh.

“The need of the hour is for the government to create awareness on liver donations, similar to eye donations,” said Sudhindran.

“Just like the eye of a dead man can be removed and given to a needy, the liver of a brain dead person can be removed and implanted in a patient suffering from liver ailment,” he said.

A transplant procedure takes around 12 to 14 hours with two teams operating upon the donor and the recipient simultaneously.

He said liver transplants are done on those who either suffer from acute liver disorders caused by consumption of poison or those who get affected by certain categories of hepatitis. Such patients need immediate transplant.

But in patients whose liver gets damaged due to consumption of alcohol, the surgery can take place after a few weeks of the detection of the problem.

As per rules, if the donor of the liver is not a relative of the recipient, then there is a government committee which has to give a go-ahead for the surgery, Sudhindran said.

The donor can be out of the hospital in two weeks, while the recipient takes double that time. The first three months for the recipient are crucial and require close monitoring, he said.

Ajith Nair, a gastroenterologist who works at KIMS Hospital in state capital Thiruvananthapuram, said the quality of medical care available in the state today is comparable to any hospital in the West.

“In a matter of two years, there would be several qualified liver transplant surgeons. Currently this is a rare breed in the state,” said Nair.

“I have myself referred 13 cases to doctor Sudhindran and believe me I was surprised when I saw a 50-year-old patient who walked in happily to meet me after his surgery was done.”

“We are also soon setting up a liver transplant unit and the only thing hampering us is the shortage of qualified surgeons,” added Nair.

Nair said Kerala has become a sought-after medical tourism destination.

On an average, Sudhindran claims to be transplanting three livers every month. In 2009, he conducted 36 such operations. In 2010, he has carried out 20 such procedures.