Kidney disease is in the national spotlight — at last

Even though kidney disease affects 37 million Americans (by the CDC’s latest estimate) and is the fastest-growing noncommunicable disease, it rarely makes headlines and most people know very little about it.

Until now. In a move that makes kidney disease a national priority, the federal government on July 10 outlined a three-pronged strategy to improve care for kidney patients, called “Advancing American Kidney Health.”

As an organization that is a leading advocate on issues important to people affected by kidney disease, AKF has worked with every administration for nearly half a century to advance public policy in this area. We are encouraged, and we are grateful, that the federal government– led by Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar -- is finally making kidney disease a national priority.

The strategies outlined in Wednesday’s announcement have potential to keep the 37 million Americans with chronic kidney disease off dialysis longer, make significantly more transplants available, and prevent more people from ever developing kidney disease in the first place.

Its goals are ambitious:

  • Reducing the number of Americans with end-stage renal disease (ESRD) by 25% by 2030.
  • Achieving an 80% rate of in-home dialysis or preemptive transplant for new cases of kidney failure by 2025.
  • Doubling the number of kidneys available for transplant by 2030.

If achieved, those goals are game-changers for Americans living with, and at risk for, kidney disease.

AKF runs the nation’s largest free kidney health screening program and we welcome the federal government’s partnership in identifying chronic kidney disease early in primary care settings. Too many people only learn they have kidney disease when their kidneys are failing. A nationwide education initiative, coupled with incentives for doctors to identify and treat kidney disease in its early stages, will give a major lift to the important work AKF is already doing.

If we can effectively reduce the number of people who “crash” into dialysis—currently about a third of the 120,000 new cases of ESRD diagnosed each year—we can give people more time to consider their treatment options, perhaps even to have a pre-emptive kidney transplant. And with more early detection, treatment and education, we can reduce the number of Americans who reach ESRD. Our robust education and outreach programs, including monthly webinars on topics that include understanding treatment options, will work in a complementary manner with the government’s efforts.

And finally, increasing the number of kidneys available for transplant will help improve a grim statistic: 43,000 people who could benefit from a kidney transplant die each year. Our efforts at the state level have resulted in legislation in 14 states that has been passed in 7 so far to extend legal protections to living organ donors. We are working with Congress on similar legislation that will help remove some of the barriers organ donors face by guaranteeing job-protected leave and ending discrimination by life, disability and long-term care insurance companies. And finally, our financial assistance makes transplants possible for about 100 dialysis patients each month.

Coupled with the government’s plans to improve organ procurement from deceased donors and to create additional incentives for living donation, we are optimistic that we can see a significant increase in kidneys available for transplant in the coming years.
We look forward to working with Secretary Azar on this ambitious initiative and to ensure that the patient voice is front and center.

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About the Author

Holly Bode

Holly Bode is the American Kidney Fund’s vice president of government affairs.

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