By LaVarne A. Burton, President and CEO, American Kidney Fund
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a spotlight on millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, and asthma, at heightened risk of complications and death if infected. Yet there is one pre-existing condition affecting 37 million Americans that is severely underdiagnosed, widely misunderstood, and too often missing from the headlines: chronic kidney disease (CKD).
The nonprofit American Kidney Fund (AKF) tirelessly raises awareness about and fights this disease on all fronts—from prevention to post-transplant living. At AKF, we work on behalf of those 37 million living with CKD, and the millions more Americans at risk, supporting people wherever they are in their journey with this disease, with an unmatched scope of programs that span education, early detection, clinical research, lifesaving financial assistance and advocacy.
During 2020, we have made it our mission to ensure these programs continue uninterrupted despite the pandemic, because the need is so great.
The tragedy of late diagnosis
The numbers tell it all: of the nearly 40 million Americans living with CKD, nine out of ten individuals don’t even know they have it. Because it has no early symptoms, many are not diagnosed until they are in the late stages of the disease and nearing the need for renal replacement therapy. Therein lies another tragedy, because science has demonstrated that early intervention leads to better outcomes, so only a fraction of patients is receiving treatment at a time when it could make the biggest difference in their lives. If you catch kidney disease early, you may be able to slow its progression and prevent kidney failure. If your kidneys fail, you will need dialysis or a kidney transplant to survive—and every day, 13 patients die waiting for a transplant.
So how did we get here? First, we need to understand why the awareness around CKD is lower than the awareness around related cardiovascular and metabolic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. For too long, there has been a lack of new, innovative treatment options for CKD patients, whereas heart disease and diabetes patients have seen a steady rise in options over the past decade. That alone counts for much of the imbalance, as healthcare providers and patients have had tangible opportunities to improve outcomes for these diseases. And because there have been limited treatments introduced into the CKD space, there’s been a major lack of conversation around what’s possible for patients.
Reasons for hope: the power of early intervention
We know that the current situation for CKD patients is unacceptable, but there is a clear-cut path forward.
It all starts with early intervention, prioritizing improved detection and early, aggressive treatment of CKD. The sooner this condition is diagnosed, the better the outcome. That means we must do everything we can in our capacity to ensure that CKD is part of the conversation between healthcare professionals, patients and their families, especially for high-risk patients like those already living with the dual diagnoses of heart disease and/or diabetes. We must ensure that the latest scientific advancements are swiftly implemented in clinical practice. And we must treat cardiovascular, metabolic and renal diseases holistically. These diseases aren’t just interconnected, they work together to worsen the symptoms and impacts of one another in ways that lead to greater harm over time.
Finally, we need to build a strong community of support for individuals with CKD, so no patient is left behind. If we are truly going to address the systematic barriers that CKD patients currently face—including lack of awareness and limited early intervention—we’ll need the combined efforts of all stakeholders and an array of new tools. We can finally see a turning point in our fight against CKD. Now is the time to make it a reality.
About American Kidney Fund
The American Kidney Fund (AKF) fights kidney disease on all fronts as the nation’s leading kidney nonprofit. AKF works on behalf of the 37 million Americans living with kidney disease, and the millions more at risk, with an unmatched scope of programs that support people wherever they are in their fight against kidney disease—from prevention through transplant. Through programs of prevention, early detection, financial support, disease management, clinical research, innovation and advocacy, no kidney organization impacts more lives than AKF. AKF is one of the nation’s top-rated nonprofits, investing 97 cents of every donated dollar in programs, and holds the highest 4-Star rating from Charity Navigator and the Platinum Seal of Transparency from GuideStar. Visit KidneyFund.org, or connect with AKF on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.