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Kidney diseases deserve special attention

Last week, the world marked the year’s World Kidney Day, and it brought to the fore the danger posed to the world and Nigeria in…

Last week, the world marked the year’s World Kidney Day, and it brought to the fore the danger posed to the world and Nigeria in particular by the rising incidence of kidney diseases. This is a real problem that must not be taken lightly, given the key roles played by the human kidneys. According to the Nigerian Association of Nephrology, at least 20 million Nigerians are suffering from kidney diseases.

Anything that affects or disrupts the normal functions of the kidney leads to a diseased kidney, which then becomes unable to remove toxins and excess fluid in the human blood system. Instead of these materials being removed from the human body, they begin to build up in the kidney, impairing its functionality.

In Nigeria, kidney diseases have become quite rampant, and given the challenges involved in the management of the ailment, the country must speed up processes aimed at preventing rather than attempting to cure or treat it. Facts presented by the Nigerian Association of Nephrology indicate that in Nigeria, people in the age range of 20-50 years are getting infected with kidney disease, contrary to what happens in the developed world, where the disease manifests mainly in people of about 60 years and above.

While these are estimates, their significance is that there is indeed a need for the authorities to be concerned over this danger that is gradually spreading without enough attention being paid to it.

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A number of factors have been ascribed to the upsurge in the rise of kidney diseases in the country.  These include uncontrolled or untreated diabetes, hypertension, and lifestyles that indulge in alcohol consumption, which burden the kidney with excessive work leading ultimately to its impairment.

Others include the use of chemicals in the preservation of foods and animal products. Food items that fall into this group include beans, rice, corn, dried fish, and meat products, among others. It is a common practice for both producers and traders to use chemicals to preserve these products, not minding the health implications of this practice.  And the reality is that nobody is immune to this danger. An individual could contract it by consuming imported food, such as rice, among others.

One of the factors that make kidney disease a prime target of discussion is not just the physical impact that the debilitation has on the individual, but also the high cost of treatment.

One of the commonest treatments for kidney diseases is dialysis, which involves the removal of excess toxins and fluids that have built up in the kidney due to its failure to remove these from the bloodstream. It also involves a purification of the impure blood and its reinjection into the patient’s body; in extreme cases, it involves the injection of fresh blood. These are the factors that make dialysis quite expensive, which means that not many Nigerian families can afford it.

The cost of dialysis in Nigeria today varies, depending on the hospital (private versus government), with the cost per session ranging from about N28,000 to as much as N60,000. And, depending on the severity of a case, a patient can undergo dialysis for up to two to three sessions per week. The financial implication of this is what makes dialysis inaccessible to most families.

However, dialysis can fail, which means that the high cost involved is not a guarantee that the patient will survive after the huge amount is paid by the family.

When dialysis fails, the next option would be a kidney transplant. Even this, too, is very expensive, which puts it out of the reach of many families. Besides, to ensure the success of a kidney plant, the patient has to be placed consistently on medication to ensure that the new kidney does not fail.

There is a question about the capacity of the local health sector in handling the challenge of kidney diseases. Most of those who are affected cannot manage it due to the high cost of treatment involved. This in part is because of the lack of adequate medical facilities.

Considering the number of people who are suffering from this ailment, it is surprising that the government does not appear to be doing enough to provide the needed facilities such as dialysis machines. At the moment, there are reports that kidney doctors in Nigeria number about 250, and that is not good enough. Efforts must be made to change that. More doctors must be trained to handle this scourge.

There is also an urgent need for the federal/state ministries of health to embark on an enlightenment campaign to highlight simple lifestyle changes that individuals can embark on to stem the incidence of kidney diseases.

We also call on our standard organisations and relevant agro-industry agencies with responsibility for food preservation and storage to rise to the occasion to ensure operators in their industries abide by globally acceptable practices.

We also call on the research institutes to wade into this national challenge. We need to see research work carried out in these areas to establish the causal factors and possible preventive measures.

The relevant departments of our academic institutions should take it upon themselves to unravel the factors behind this upsurge and more importantly, proffer solutions to it. This issue must be given the necessary attention.