Celebrating World Kidney Day

BY: Dr Vincent Boima and Dr Frank Owusu-Sekyere
The kidneys are very vital organs of our body
The kidneys are very vital organs of our body

As the world advances in knowledge and technology, more and more attention is put on various aspects of our wellbeing.It is in that light that the World Kidney Day (WKD) was instituted and first observed in the year 2006.

It has since been observed on March 10, every year. It is appropriate then to highlight what the International Society of Nephrology (ISN) and the International Federation of Kidney Foundations (IFKF) jointly encourage the world to observe- WKD.

The objectives of the World Kidney Day include:
• Raise awareness of our “amazing kidneys” and highlight that diabetes and high blood pressure are key risk factors for Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD).
• Encourage systematic screening of all patients with diabetes and hypertension for CKD.
• Encourage preventive behaviour.
• Educate all medical professionals about their key role in detecting and reducing the risk of CKD, particularly in high risk populations.
• Stress the important role of local and national health authorities in controlling the CKD epidemic.
• Encourage transplantation as a best-outcome option for kidney failure, and the act of organ donation as a life-saving initiative.

On World Kidney Day all governments are encouraged to take action and invest in further kidney screening. Over the past one and half decades WKD has been observed, with different themes capturing the main of the objectives of this event. The theme for this year’s celebration is “Kidney Health for all – Bridging the gap of knowledge to better kidney care”.

In achieving this objective, the Ghana Kidney Association has been conducting educational programmes and screening for kidney disease every year during WKD events. The association has been to almost every region in Ghana to educate Ghanaians and to conduct free screening programmes for kidney disease and its risk factors.

The commemoration of this year’s event happened in Kumasi with a float, public lecture and a scientific meeting for all health workers. These advocacy programmes are important because the burden of chronic kidney disease is on the rise. It is expected that in low-to-middle income countries the burden is expected to be at least three to four times that of high-income countries.

Again, the people affected in these countries are young between the ages of 20 to 50 years, representing the economically productive group of our society, most of whom cannot afford the cost of dialysis or kidney transplantation. Prevention, therefore, is the key in curtailing the rising burden of this disease.

The kidneys are very vital organs of our body. Normally everyone is born with two kidneys, except in certain rare situations where people are born with just one kidney. The kidneys primarily remove toxins and waste products from the blood. Other functions of the kidneys include controlling blood pressure, maintaining healthy bones, controlling water balance, controlling acid-base balance and production of a hormone called erythropoietin which plays a key role in the formation of red blood cells.

In addition, the kidneys ensure that certain key minerals in the body such as potassium, sodium, phosphorus, magnesium, calcium and others are all maintained in their right balance for the body to function well. Kidney failure thus causes serious problems to affected individuals.

In 2017, about 697.5 million chronic kidney disease cases were recorded globally, representing a 29.3% increase in cases recorded in 1990. Furthermore, about 1.2 million people died from chronic kidney disease globally in 2017, representing 41.5% increase from the kidney related deaths recorded in 1990.

As earlier stated, kidney diseases are wreaking havoc on low and middle-income countries where both the prevalence and death rates are significantly higher than in high-income countries. The prevalence of CKD in Ghana is estimated to be about 13.3%, translating to about four million Ghanaians living with CKD.

The Ghanaian media (radio, television, newspapers) and social media are inundated on a daily basis with people seeking help as they battle kidney diseases usually in the prime of their life. This goes to support the fact that CKD is a major public health problem in Ghana.

Hypertension (high blood pressure) and diabetes (uncontrolled blood sugar) are the two main causes of kidney failure worldwide. Other factors that increase the risk for kidney disease include obesity, cardiovascular diseases, smoking, family history, allergic reactions, abuse of certain prescribed medications and herbal concoctions, severe dehydration, insufficient blood flow to the kidneys and some infections such as HIV, Hepatitis B and C.

In addition, certain environmental factors such as toxins from heavy metals and pesticides as well as underground water with high fluoride levels have been noted to cause kidney disease. Adoption of western lifestyles which comes with changes in diet, less physical activity, rapid urbanisation and aging population due to relative improvement in the health care system have been blamed for this sharp rise in CKD.

At the early stages of kidney failure, there are no noticeable symptoms. This is worrying for countries such as Ghana where people hardly go for regular medical check-ups. As a result, kidney problems are detected when it is in its advanced stage.

People with kidney failure present with symptoms such as decreased urine production, swelling of legs and feet due to fluid retention, shortness of breath, excessive fatigue, chest pain, trouble sleeping (insomnia), decreased appetite, nausea, vomiting, itchy skin, muscle cramps, confusion, seizures and coma. At this stage they will need renal replacement therapy to survive.

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