BRUNEI-MUARA – Jerudong Park Medical Centre (JPMC) on Wednesday announced it will open Borneo’s first liver transplant facility by the first quarter of 2019.

The  facility — which will perform transplants from living donors — will be the first of its kind in Borneo, made possible through a joint medical partnership between JPMC and Yashoda Hospitals, India.

JPMC’s chief operating officer, Varghese Paulose, told media they are finalising the guidelines for recipients and donors.

“Hopefully with the help of the Ministry of Health and the government, we would be able to finalise this by the end of this year and we are aiming to start with our first patient by the first quarter of next year,” he said.

A living donor transplant is a surgical procedure to remove an organ, or portion of an organ, from a living person and place it in another person whose organ is no longer functioning properly. In Brunei, living donations must be done between family members.

Paulose added that JPMC will offer transplant services at a third of the cost offered by other facilities in the region, hoping to make the procedure more affordable for patients, as well as attract medical tourism to Brunei. 

The establishment of the facility also means that the Brunei government — which provides universal healthcare to its citizens and permanent residents — now has the option of treating liver transplant patients locally, without having to send them overseas for the surgery. Typically, at least three liver transplant patients are sent to Singapore every year.

With countries such as Singapore and Thailand each generating more than $4 billion from medical tourism in 2016, JPMC hopes that Brunei can get a slice of the industry by attracting patients from neighbouring ASEAN countries such as Indonesia, Cambodia, Philippines, Laos and Myanmar.

The partnership between JPMC and Yashoda will also bring in a team of highly trained specialists.

“The ultimate idea of this collaboration is for exchange and transfer of knowledge within the next five years, and to build a local talented medical team to carry out this procedure in Brunei,” said Dr Khabeer Meera Saheeb, JPMC’s medical director. 

The Ministry of Health will also be involved in pre-op evaluation and screening for liver transplants and post-op management to improve the health of successful liver transplant patients. 

“Whether or not recipients are good candidates for liver transplants is determined by examining and analysing each patient’s medical condition and characteristics,” said Dr Balachandran Menon, director of Liver Transplants at the Yashoda Institute of Liver Transplant and Hepatobiliary Diseases.

Donors must be aged between 18 and 55, to ensure that the health and quality of life for donors are not compromised post-surgery.