Kidney disease is a serious health concern for all Australians; however, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experience a greater burden of kidney disease than other Australians. Even more so for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in remote and very remote parts of the country. Dialysis treatment for kidney disease accounts for almost half of all hospitalisations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, that is upward of 250,000 admissions per year.
Fortunately, kidney disease is a treatable condition if detected early enough, its progress can be slowed or even stopped. When it is ongoing for more than three months it is termed chronic kidney disease (CKD) with the final, most severe stage being end stage kidney disease (ESKD). When kidney disease is found in the early stages, treatment can include changes to lifestyle and medications.
The problem is that often kidney disease among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is not detected until it has caused severe damage to the kidneys, limiting treatment options. For many people, this means regular admission to hospital or a medical service for essential dialysis treatments, where a machine filters the blood in order to keep the body healthy. For some people, it can mean undergoing surgery to receive a kidney transplant. This is a more serious treatment that comes with many risks and complications. In addition, people with CKD and ESKD generally experience poorer quality of life and health outcomes and can suffer depression and other mental health issues.
The Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet recently published a Review of kidney health among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, which provides more detail around the extent and context of kidney disease in this population group. The Review highlights some important factors to address to improve the current status of kidney health among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people including:
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people being actively involved in designing of programs, services, research and policy around kidney health
- increasing access to treatments like dialysis and transplantation, and helping patients to get their treatments closer to home
- improving cultural awareness and addressing racism and bias in the healthcare system
- increasing the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workforce
- providing care that is holistic and appropriate.
In order to reduce the high rates of kidney disease, it is also crucial to address the socioeconomic challenges faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across Australia, and particularly in remote regions. Risk factors for kidney disease relate not just to a person’s health but also their social circumstances:
- post streptococcal glomerular nephritis (PSGN) – a post-infection condition which mostly occurs in communities with lower housing and sanitation conditions
- being overweight or obese – can be related to the lack of healthy food options in some remote communities
- smoking – very high rates in remote areas
- chronic stress
- low birth weight
- other health conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure can increase a person’s risk of developing kidney disease.
To learn more about kidney disease and what is being done to reduce its impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, you can visit the Kidney Health portal on the HealthInfoNet website, read the Review or view the range of complementary knowledge exchange products including a short video, a fact sheet, a plain language summary and a recorded webinar.