Time to address the causes of kidney disease in the country

BAR NONE - Atty. Ian Vincent Manticajon - The Freeman

I was in Misamis Oriental last weekend to attend the wake of my late aunt from my father's side who died due to kidney failure. This is the second close relative this year who has succumbed to this condition. If you recall, I mentioned last August about attending another aunt's wake in Southern Leyte.

Now, the Philippines is witnessing an unsettling rise in kidney-related maladies, usually a complication of diabetes, whereas such diseases were rare a couple of decades ago. No doubt this is caused by modern diets --too much fast food, the easy reach of convenience stores, and the cheap allure of instant, processed foods and soda drinks. It is not just older people who are stricken with kidney failure or chronic kidney disease, but also individuals as young as 30 to 40 years old.

Since we are already witnessing this trend, we welcome the news that more dialysis centers offering affordable options for the public are being opened. In Talisay City, Cebu, Mayor Gerald Anthony “Samsam” Gullas is set to lead the opening of a dialysis center on October 9. Gullas was quoted in The FREEMAN last Saturday that they have made great efforts to establish their own dialysis center in Talisay City to spare residents from traveling far for treatment.

According to a study published in the AJKD Journal in 2019, Asia, being the largest and most populated continent in the world, has a high burden of kidney failure, with diabetes being the primary cause. In developing countries like the Philippines, access to dialysis can be limited, and when available, it may be provided less frequently than optimal. The burden of kidney failure is especially heavy for the poor. That's why the establishment of more dialysis centers and the expansion of public health insurance coverage for dialysis patients are welcome developments.

In June, coinciding with National Kidney Month, three congressmen advocated for the swift passage of a bill mandating government hospitals to establish dialysis wards. These wards should provide services at no cost to indigent patients. While PhilHealth has increased its coverage for hemodialysis from a maximum of 90 sessions to 144 sessions, this still falls short for many kidney disease patients. The cost for each dialysis session ranges between ?2,000 and ?5,000 with typical treatment requiring three sessions weekly, according to a report by the Philippine News Agency.

But more than the need for adequate treatment facilities and expanded coverage, we should also emphasize prevention in healthcare. Perhaps it's time we consider placing health warnings on the packaging of processed foods, especially those high in sugar and sodium, and likewise in fast food advertisements. Some studies suggest that warnings on sugary drinks could reduce calorie intake. The impact might be greater if applied to various unhealthy foods and drinks. This could also encourage manufacturers to make healthier products to avoid these warnings.

For sure, businesses and manufacturers may resist such an idea, much like cigarette manufacturers in the olden days opposed legislation that required health warnings on cigarette packaging and imposed limits on cigarette advertising. But the situation has already become alarming. We need some controls and public education to encourage people to eat healthy and nutrient-dense foods.

Some say it’s very easy for those who can afford the rising cost of healthy foods to make such statements. Many poor people resort to instant noodles, salted goods, and canned items to survive because these are the only afforda ble options available to them.

I say let’s start the conversation now, address this problem of increasing prevalence of kidney diseases, and explore practical solutions.

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