World Kidney Day highlights the stark reality of CKD in South Africa and the global crusade for renal health

On World Kidney Day, March 14, the spotlight turns to our hard-working kidneys and the importance of keeping them healthy. Picture: Robina Weermeijer /Unsplash

On World Kidney Day, March 14, the spotlight turns to our hard-working kidneys and the importance of keeping them healthy. Picture: Robina Weermeijer /Unsplash

Published Mar 14, 2024


On World Kidney Day, March 14, the spotlight turns to our hard-working kidneys and the importance of keeping them healthy.

It's a day when health experts remind us that caring for our kidneys is a journey that involves everything from eating right and exercising to understanding the risks that can lead to kidney disease.

In South Africa, the challenge is real, with an estimated 10.7% of the population grappling with chronic kidney disease (CKD), according to the International Society of Nephrology's Global Health Atlas survey.

This condition doesn't play fair, hitting poorer urban communities the hardest and leaving them with a heavier burden than many other developing countries, as reported by the World Health Organization.

Despite CKD being a major global health issue, affecting more people than diabetes and over 20 times the number of those with HIV/AIDS, our knowledge about its prevalence in South Africa and across Africa is still limited due to a lack of comprehensive CKD registries.

But the numbers we do have are staggering, with approximately 844 million people worldwide living with this condition, as noted in a BioMed Journal Nephrology study.

Thankfully, science is on our side. Advances in renal science mean that a CKD diagnosis isn't the end of the road. With more dialysis facilities popping up, this critical treatment is reaching more people who need it.

Dialysis does the kidneys' job of filtering waste and balancing fluids, helping patients manage symptoms and maintain a better quality of life.

But dialysis isn't a walk in the park. It's a thrice-weekly commitment, lasting several hours each session, and it's a lifelong necessity for many. Beyond the physical toll, it can be mentally and emotionally challenging, which is why a supportive healthcare team is essential.

Life Healthcare is stepping up to transform renal care in South Africa. They're rolling out an integrated care pathway programme that puts patients first, offering a personalised approach to renal care that addresses individual needs.

Noleen Phillipson, National Manager of Life Renal Dialysis, shares that while the initiative isn't fully implemented across all their units yet, the goal is to standardise this programme for all their kidney dialysis patients.

When it comes to taking care of our kidneys, it turns out that a little bit of knowledge can go a long way. According to health experts, patient education is a key piece of the puzzle in managing kidney health.

"It's like giving patients a roadmap to better health," one expert shared. "With the right information, they can steer clear of the bumps and potholes on the road to a better quality of life."

Life Healthcare is putting this philosophy into action with its integrated care program, which includes not just treatments but also teaching patients how to look after their kidneys.

“An important aspect to the continuum of care includes patient education, as this provides valuable insights into managing kidney health,” said Noleen Phillipson, the Life Renal Dialysis national manager.

“These resources will assist in empowering patients with knowledge and practical tips for a better quality of life.”

But it's not just about handing out pamphlets and calling it a day.

The programme also asks patients to fill out health surveys periodically.

“The programme also includes quality of life assessments where patients complete periodic health-related surveys,” Phillipson added.

“This enables us to refine and improve our services based on valuable patient feedback.” added Phillipson.

“The care co-ordinator relationship is based on an understanding that patients living with chronic kidney disease require more than just dialysis treatment,” explained Moses Habimana, the Regional Manager: Care Coordination, Life Healthcare.

When fully integrated the programme has had a positive response.

Imagine being handed a map of a foreign land, where the language is just as unfamiliar as the winding streets. That's how many patients feel when they're first diagnosed with chronic kidney disease (CKD)—lost and overwhelmed.

But there's a program that's changing all that, turning confusion into clarity and isolation into support.

Patients who have joined this fully integrated care programme are raving about the difference it's made.

"It's like someone turned on the lights in a dark room," said one patient, who praised the program for illuminating the path forward with their condition and treatment.

"Suddenly, you're not stumbling around on your own; you've got a whole team with you."

Another patient shared a story straight out of a medical drama—a close call with gangrene in the foot due to poor circulation, a common complication of kidney disease.

"My care coordinator was my hero," the patient recounted. "She got me to the wound clinic just in time. Now, my foot's healed, and I'm back on my feet—literally."

Behind the scenes of this programme is a strategy that's as comprehensive as it is compassionate.

"We're not just treating a disease; we're caring for people," Habimana explained.

"That means pulling together multidisciplinary teams, creating disease management programmes, and harnessing the power of data and technology to give our patients the best care possible."