World Services Funds Save Lives in Sri Lanka

Up to 20,000 people in Sri Lanka have died, and 400,000 sickened, from a mysterious kidney disease in the last 20 years. One of the districts, Polonnaruwa, was identified by the Sri Lankan government as high-risk and underserved, so the Salvation Army World Service Office has answered the need with mobile screening clinics and by sponsoring outreach education.

In fact, Lt. Colonel Debra Mockabee, assistant program secretary – who was appointed to Sri Lanka with Lt. Colonel William Mockabee, program secretary, when the clinics were first instituted – helped identify those with potential kidney disease in the region. While mobile clinics were introduced after the 2004 tsunami, Lt. Colonel Mockabee said she proposed the idea that these clinics could be used to identify and treat those in the early stages of the mysterious kidney disease. The epic numbers of men dying from the mysterious kidney disease was believed to be linked to the water that the farmers in the fields were drinking.

“Although it is not for certain, it is believed the water they are drinking is polluted by chemicals they use for the crops,” explained Lt. Colonel Debra Mockabee. “We worked with the hospitals to begin a program where our mobile clinic workers canvassed the areas with testing which identified the possibility of kidney disease. Those who tested positive were then connected to a hospital for treatment. This was done in the hopes of catching the disease early enough so it could be treated. We also worked into this project money to provide a simple water filter for each household.

“Along with this, I worked with getting a water project started. This was a project with the Canada and Bermuda Territory. The project SWALD – Safe Water and Livelihood Development – was to take place in the same area to assist with making sure there was clean water for all residents. The project will build large community wells, along with education on how the community can work together to maintain the wells and education for home water measures to take. Livelihood classes were also worked into the project. SWALD is now in progress.”

According to Megan Gandee, communications manager for SAWSO, when the kidney disease is detected early enough, its progress can be reversed through medicine. Some men who were diagnosed through urinary protein and blood glucose testing at the mobile clinics have been known to travel anywhere from approximately 9 to 30 miles to get the necessary medicine from local hospitals. But their stories are full of gratitude. H.M.P. Bandera, 71 years old, is thankful that the discovery and treatment of this disease has saved his life; while he travels extensively to get the life-saving treatment, his wife has cancer so he knows what a blessing it is to get necessary medicines in time. “I am thankful for The Salvation Army for providing this opportunity to find out about the kidney disease and for helping me to live my life,” he said.

Another man, Suraj Rangana, was 29 years old when the mobile clinic screened him and he was diagnosed with the disease. He was already struggling with a disability and, thus unemployed, so he worried about getting treatment which requires time and the costs of travel to a local hospital where the government funds the treatment. Within five months of diagnosis, a relative agreed to donate a kidney and Rangana underwent a transplant that changed his life.

He now serves as an employee of the Safe Water and Livelihood Project of The Salvation Army in Polonnaruwa.

“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.”

Lisa Firth, health technical advisor with SAWSO, said she is encouraged “by the difference being made by the highly committed Salvation Army team in Polonnaruwa District.” As of March 2015, over 20,000 people have been screened for the disease, 1,500 tested positive and about 700 referred to the local hospital.

Lt. Colonel Mockabee said the positive outcomes are a direct result of generous hearts in North America. “It was the donations from the soldiers and friends in the U.S. territories and Canada that made it possible for these projects. We are so grateful for those who took their time to raise funds to give for these projects; they really do save lives!”

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