New research reveals alarming rates of preventable deaths from gaps in kidney failure treatment

13 March 2015

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World first research published in The Lancet reveals that more than two million people globally die unnecessarily each year because they cannot access kidney failure treatment (dialysis or a kidney transplant).

Each year, over 2.5 million people receive this life-saving treatment and by 2030 this number is predicted to double to over 5 million.

Co-author Professor Vivek Jha of the UK arm of The George Institute, based at the Oxford Martin School says these findings call for immediate action from the global nephrology, healthcare and research communities alike.

“Archaic models of care coupled with gaps in treatment, such as lack of access to local health professionals and unaffordable dialysis, is stopping people from getting the treatment they desperately need,” says Professor Jha.

“These new research findings provide the evidence needed to set global targets, develop innovative models of preventative care, and push industry to invest in affordable solutions for dialysis.”

Lead author, Professor Vlado Perkovic of The George Institute and The University of Sydney, said the findings present a grim picture of the prevalence of kidney failure which is worse than previously thought.

“The sad reality is that most of these deaths are preventable and the biggest burden lies in low to middle income countries where there are instances of less than a quarter of patients receiving treatment for kidney failure,” says Professor Perkovic.

“This could get worse - over coming decades kidney failure rates are projected to grow rapidly and millions of people appear doomed to die without access to dialysis without specific action, with Asia being hit the hardest,” he says.

“We urgently need to find ways to get people the treatment they need by making dialysis affordable, and by implementing preventative measures so fewer people develop kidney failure in the first place” he says,” he says. “Effective yet simple kidney disease prevention strategies include controlling blood pressure and glucose levels, taking proven protective medications and managing key risk factors like diabetes and obesity.”

Around the world kidney disease is a leading cause of death and disability and rapidly growing yet under recognised health problem. The need for affordable dialysis (currently US$ 20,000 – $100,000 per person per year) and population-wide prevention strategies for kidney disease has never been greater.

The cost of dialysis is a major barrier, especially in low and middle income countries, and the impact on health expenditure is vastly disproportionate to the numbers of people who use it. In the UK for example, dialysis costs on average over £30,000 per patient per year and 3% of the NHS England budget is spent on kidney failure.

“Dialysis has been around for half a century, and yet has remained hugely expensive even though the technology hasn’t evolved substantively,” explains Professor Jha. “In this time, computers have shrunk from the size of buildings to that of a watch; that’s the kind of radical overhaul needed.”

As a result of this research, a world-wide competition is being launched today to design the world’s first affordable dialysis machine, attracting a prize of $US100,000.

“Dialysis machines purify the blood, replacing an essential function of the kidneys. If we can develop an affordable dialysis machine with low operating costs, that runs on solar power and uses local water sources, many more people will have access to the treatment and millions of lives could be saved.”

The competition is sponsored by The George Institute, the International Society of Nephrology and the Asian Pacific Society of Nephrology, with the support of the Farrell Family Foundation.

Incoming president of the International Society of Nephrology, Professor Adeera Levin of the University of British Columbia said that the International Society of Nephrology is proud to support the Affordable Dialysis Prize.

“We hope it will attract interest around the world, particularly in those countries where kidney patients stand to benefit the most from creative, innovative approaches to treatment at a price everyone can afford,” says Professor Levin

The new findings provide evidence for setting global targets and are an incentive for industry to invest in low cost technologies for dialysis; and suggest the increasing gap in treatment demands a combined advocacy, health-care delivery and research action plan:

  • AWARENESS: Governments should be made aware of the number of preventable deaths in their jurisdictions and lobbied to increase access to dialysis for affected individuals where possible as part of their broader health planning activities
  • PREVENTION: Innovative models of preventative care should be piloted in low- and middle-income countries, especially in areas where access to physicians is low. Effective kidney disease prevention strategies could include blood pressure control, renin angiotensin system blockade and management of key risk factors including diabetes, obesity and acute kidney injury.
  • AFFORDABILITY: More cost-effective dialysis techniques must be developed and made available. Current dialysis treatment will remain unaffordable for many of the countries where access to renal replacement therapy is lowest. Considering the increase in the expected number of patients requiring treatment, dialysis provision will also represent a substantial financial burden for even the most high income countries in the years ahead.