Nearly a decade after the T. T. Durai scandal, the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) is ready to come out of its shell and return to active fund-raising. It needs to do this because the number of donors has plunged to a record low even though more money is needed to cope with the rising number of kidney failure cases here.
"For the past nine years since the controversy, we did not do any significant fund-raising event and NKF went into a tortoise shell and never came out," chairman Koh Poh Tiong said yesterday at its 45th anniversary dinner, which raised $11.3 million. Part of the money will be used to build five new dialysis centres over the next two years.
"Today is very significant for NKF because the tortoise's head is out and we have decided to walk."
The 2005 scandal which exposed former chief executive Durai's lavish lifestyle and misuse of charity dollars led to a public outcry. In its wake, the NKF halted its public fund-raising events, including its glitzy TV shows, which raised more than $10 million each time.
The number of people who donate monthly to the NKF has sunk from a high of 280,000 donors prior to the saga to an all-time low of 154,000 now.
"I can understand that the donors were upset and angry because the core of trust was broken," said Mr Koh, adding that the amount raised last night was a confidence boost. "Tonight, with this $11.3 million (raised), there is hope for us."
Instead of megashows, it may opt for drama serials that feature the day-to-day lives of kidney patients, including the problems they face at home.
Every day in Singapore, four people lose the use of their kidneys. The country has the fifth highest rate of kidney failure in the world, with 279 people out of every million here afflicted in 2012.
And numbers are rising.
There were 1,544 new cases of kidney failure three years ago, up from 679 in 1999. The number on dialysis has gone up from 4,895 in 2011 to 5,237 a year later - a jump of nearly 7 per cent.
This means that the charity needs over $70 million this year to support all its patients, up from $60 million last year.
Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, who was the guest of honour, said that the harder the challenges get, the more urgent the need to support patients, which his ministry will partner NKF to do.
Of the amount raised yesterday, $10 million came from five sponsors, including the Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho temple, the Singapore Buddhist Lodge and the Sirivadhanabhakdi Foundation.
The foundation is owned by Thailand's third richest family, whose member Khun Charoen, is chairman of beverage giant Fraser & Neave as well as property developer Frasers Centrepoint. Two of the other donors wanted to remain anonymous.
The $10 million will go to the charity's new centres, which will be situated in areas where there is a high demand for dialysis services, such as Yishun, Bukit Panjang, Jurong and Bendeemer.
Another $1.3 million was raised from table sales and an auction at the dinner. This will go to starting an Education and Prevention Fund to raise awareness about kidney disease, said Mr Koh.
He explained that to keep building more centres is unsustainable in the long run because of cost and space constraints.
This article was published on April 6 in The Straits Times.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.