The country is running critically short of kidney donors, Ramathibodi Hospital's kidney transplant project says.
Of the more than 40,000 people who suffer from chronic kidney disease, about 4,000 of them are awaiting a kidney transplant. But there are only about 400 kidneys available for transplant procedures each year, Dr Sophon Jirasiritham, chairman of Ramathibodi Hospital's kidney transplant project, said.
Although there is enough money and enough transplant specialists available for the required surgeries, the hospital is having difficulty attracting donors, he said.
The shortage is aggravated by an annual average increase of 14,000 new kidney disease sufferers, Dr Sophon added.
He said that more than 10,000 people whose kidneys are in good condition die every year from accidents or brain injuries _ but only about 200 of those kidneys, or 100 pairs of the organs, are donated annually.
Most kidney transplants come from healthy relatives of patients, he said, adding that the transplants are usually successful.
"In the 26 years Ramathibodi Hospital has performed kidney transplant operations, we have delivered 1,554 successful surgeries and we're getting better and better at it," he said.
Both the donors and recipients of kidneys can have healthy, long lives with only one kidney, Dr Sophon said.
The transplant surgeries are provided free of charge to subscribers of the social security scheme, the gold card universal health insurance scheme and the state officials' welfare programme. The three health insurance schemes cover large portions of the population.
Vasant Sumethkul, president of the Thai Transplantation Society (TTS), said in many cases, people have contracted kidney disease after suffering from other chronic illnesses such as diabetes and hypertension.
Prevention of kidney disease is better than waiting for a transplant. "A lot of Thais tend to eat salty food," he said, which can contribute to kidney disease.
The TTS is encouraging people to eat less salt, Mr Vasant added.
Chatuporn Khamchuen, 53, of Kanchanaburi, had a kidney transplant when he was 37.
The kidney was donated by his younger brother, and both of them are now in fine health, he said.
Before the transplant surgery, his kidney functions were deteriorating quickly, he added.
He required expensive dialysis sessions at a private hospital three times per week.
"It was buying time for my life every three days, but it was miserable," he said. Mr Chatuporn received the free, life-saving operation at Ramathibodi Hospital.
Watcharaporn Namthaisong, 37, donated one of her kidneys to her seven-year-old son last year.
After the operation, the boy, who was born with a kidney defect, was given immunosuppression medicine to prevent the body from rejecting the organ.Since the operation, Ms Watcharaporn said her son is physically strong and has managed to put on some of the weight he lost due to illness.
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- Writer: Penchan Charoensuthipan