Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter
WITH A significant chunk of the country's resources spent on the treatment of lifestyle illnesses, nephrology practitioners have drawn attention to the need for Jamaicans to adopt healthy habits to prevent ailments such as kidney disease.
Professor Everard Barton, chief of nephrology at the University Hospital of the West Indies, and chairman of Caribbean Institute of Nephrology, is urging Jamaicans to eat more fruits and grains, and to engage in more physical activity.
"Prevention is better than cure and it is far better for us to prevent than to try to cure or to try to treat," Barton told a Gleaner Editor's forum recently.
Some 550 adults are currently being treated for chronic kidney failure, while hundreds more are on a dialysis waiting list.
Dr Adedamola Soyibo notes that 25 per cent of the population has diabetes, three-quarters of whom are likely to develop kidney problems. He also said another 20 per cent of the population has high blood pressure, a quarter of whom will further develop kidney problems.
Diabetes and high blood pressure are the two main causes of chronic kidney disease. They are said to be responsible for up to two-thirds of the cases.
Diabetes is a condition which results when the blood sugar is too high, causing damage to many organs in your body, including the kidneys and heart, as well as blood vessels, nerves and eyes.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, occurs when the pressure of your blood against the walls of your blood vessels increases.
Dr Barton argues that an ounce of prevention could redound in significant benefits to the country.
"We can build all the dialysis units we want in Jamaica, we would not be able to afford the recurrent expenditure for these dialysis units unless we take the approach of prevention,"
Andrea Mignott, nurse in charge of the haemodialysis unit at the University Hospital of the West Indies, has called for the educating of the population about diseases which can cause renal failure.
"I would like to see persons being more aware of what are the cause of kidney diseases, if they can do more lifestyle changes to prevent persons going on to develop the illness," Mignott said.
Sister Barbara Ritchie-Sinclair, former director of nephrology at the UHWI, has called for something to be done nationwide about the promotion for the prevention of kidney disease.
"It really is a serious problem and the financial implications are vast," Ritchie-Sinclair said.
Meanwhile, Barton has underscored the importance of primary health care in the fight against kidney diseases and has bemoaned what he says appears to be the lost of ground in this area.
"We need to have a strong effective primary-care prevention programme for the country. We need to put a great deal of emphasis there," Barton said.
"We also need to promote more healthy lifestyle. Physical activity programme within all schools, except those who are physically exempted, and in the workplace."
"The persons who have diabetes for instance, hypertension, whose cholesterol are high, we would want to see that these are well controlled so that they don't develop kidney disease," Barton said.
Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson last year said the Government spends more than US$170 million annually in treatment for people suffering from non-communicable diseases (NCDs).
He said that chronic conditions such as heart and other circulatory diseases, strokes, cancers, diabetes, and respiratory diseases are the leading causes of death in Jamaica, and statistics from the ministry reveal that in 2009, NCDs accounted for the deaths of approximately 60 per cent of men and 75 per cent of women.
Barton has urged Jamaicans to visit their health-care providers at least once per year to have tests done on their urine to determine whether protein, sugar or blood is present, which could give an indication as to whether a person is afflicted in kidney disease.
Similarly, Dr Soyibo said that if people frequently test for protein, sugar or blood in the urine it could go a far way in slowing the impact of kidney disease.
"What we don't want is to have people turning up at our doors and they have already lost two-thirds of their kidney function," Dr Soyibo said.