JUBA - President Salva Kiir opened South Sudan's first-ever kidney hospital Thursday in Juba, calling it a breakthrough for the country's medical care.
The facility — a welcome positive sign in conflict-torn South Sudan -- is to provide free services to all kidney patients in the country, including foreigners who have been residing there for at least six months.
However, the government has not explained how it will pay for the services. Oil production is the country's main revenue-producer, and output remains far below normal as the country endures its fourth year of a civil war.
The Al Cardinal group of companies, headed by investor Asraf Seed Ahmed, built the hospital, which boasts 10 dialysis machines and the capacity to treat at least 50 patients a day, although no transplants will be performed for the time being.
As Asraf turned over management of the hospital to the government Thursday, he called on Kiir to ensure that the hospital remains well-staffed and continues to provide free care to all patients.
"Mr. President, I want this center to be taken care of. If this center is managed well, it means citizens will get good services. I call upon all the organizations and foreign embassies here to work and provide for the other needs of South Sudanese citizens," Asraf said.
At a ribbon-cutting ceremony, guests clapped and women ululated as Kiir said citizens can now receive "first-class treatment right here at home."
"They will no longer have to travel abroad for diagnosis and long-term care," he said.
Dr. Maker Isaac, director of Juba Teaching Hospital, said the new facility will receive 20 patients each month, but the overwhelming majority of kidney patients will be referred to other countries for treatment.
Isaac said a large number of South Sudanese patients suffered from suspected kidney diseases, many of whom died because there were no facilities available to treat or diagnose the disease.
"People die in front of us and we believe this death can be prevented simply by cleaning the blood of the patient, but we were unable to do anything. We just watch them die," he told VOA's South Sudan in Focus.
"Now, kidney patients can receive treatment, free of charge. This will make a very huge impact in the care of the patients in South Sudan," Isaac said.