Dr Jaqui Hughes, of the Menzies School of Health Research, and Dr Susan Crail, from Royal Darwin Hospital, have recently returned from a week representing the Northern Territory at the biennial World Conference of Nephrology in Milan.
Drs Hughes and Crail are two of the Territory’s leading kidney experts and were invited to present findings from their research into renal disease among Indigenous Australians.
Renal (kidney) failure among Indigenous Australians is 30 times as common as in the non-Indigenous population. Dialysis is necessary when patients reach the end stage of kidney failure. Currently there are about 400 patients (85 per cent Indigenous) on dialysis in the NT with 75 per cent from remote and rural areas.
Dialysis is an intrusive procedure that requires the patients to be in hospital for five-hour sessions, three days a week for the rest of their life. The need for dialysis is associated with significant social dislocation for the patient, their family and their communities with many patients living up to 1000km from where the main renal services are based, in Darwin and Alice Springs.
“Contact with the community and family is culturally imperative for most Indigenous Australians,” said Dr Crail, who presented findings from the innovative Return to Country program.
“This program gives patients the option of returning to their communities to pass away rather than spending their final days in a hospital away from their family, friends and home.”
Dr Crail praised the initiative as putting patients' and family needs first, giving them the choice to return to their homelands to receive the traditional passing ceremonies.
In complementary work, Dr Jaqui Hughes presented early data derived from an ongoing study conducted by the Menzies School of Health Research, which is examining the best way to measure kidney function in Indigenous Australians.
The eGFR study looks at the relationship between several measures of body composition in Australian Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, who are a high risk group to develop chronic kidney disease. The study seeks to validate the current test of kidney function in an Indigenous context.
Speaking on her return from the conference, Dr Hughes said that the ability to accurately measure kidney function will result in better health outcomes for Indigenous Australians.
“Once we are confident that we can accurately measure kidney function, we can evaluate our current strategies to see where else we can make improvements in interventions to prevent progression of kidney damage.”
This pioneering work will have relevance to other populations across the globe with high rates of renal disease.