Knowledge gap hindering kidney care in Kenya

Mercy Mwangangi

Health CAS Dr Mercy Mwangangi giving updates on the status of Covid 19 in the country. She announced that over 800, 000 doses of AstraZeneca Covid vaccine have expired across the country.  

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • About five million people in Kenya have kidney diseases at either mild, moderate, severe or chronic stages.
  • The government is also working to establish a kidney diseases technical working group.

Lack of knowledge by the general public about kidney diseases has been identified as the biggest challenge to kidney care in the country.

Speaking during celebrations to mark World Kidney Day at the Kenyatta National Hospital, Chief Administrative Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Dr Mercy Mwangangi, said for progress to be made in early detection and treatment of kidney diseases, there is need to create awareness on early detection of kidney diseases as well as how to prevent them.

“Many people do not go for regular health checks and end up realising they have kidney ailments when the disease has reached an advanced stage,” Dr Mwangangi said.

She noted that kidney diseases are still a main contributor of disease burden in the category of non-communicable diseases. 

Prof Seth McLigeyo, a veteran nephrologist, who was among the team of doctors who conducted the first kidney transplant in the country in 1978, said Kenya has made huge steps in kidney care but more needs to be done in terms of education about kidney health.

Kidney diseases

“As a country, we are much ahead because back when I started the practice, we barely had any kidney specialists in the country but now we have many spread out across the country,” he said.

He also noted that the only kidney unit was at KNH at the time but now in Nairobi alone there are more than 100 dialysis units with more units in almost all counties across the country. 

According to Prof Peter Mungai, a consultant urologist and transplant surgeon, the East African Kidney Institute in Kenya is a centre of excellence in the region in terms of research on kidney diseases. 

“The institute is training kidney specialists such as nephrologists and renal nurses in order to equip health workers with knowledge they need on treating patients,” he added. 

He said the institute is also calling for formulation of a legal framework to have deceased donor transplants done in the country in a regulated way. Deceased donor transplants are organ donations given at the time of death of the donor’s death, for the purpose of transplantation to another person. 

Dr Ahmed Twahir, the former chairman of the Kenya Renal Association, said about five million people in Kenya have kidney diseases at either mild, moderate, severe or chronic stages.

“Over 6,000 patients are currently on dialysis in the country, which is a milestone from 10 years ago when we had only 500 people on dialysis,” he said.

Kidney transplants

He attributed the increase to access to financing such as the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) which now covers dialysis for patients in the country.

Mr John Gikonyo, President of the Renal Patients Society of Kenya, said NHIF has done a commendable job in helping patients’ access good kidney treatments but called on them to support patients in paying for post-transplant medication.

“Those who have undergone kidney transplants need to be on medication for the rest of their lives and it is therefore important that NHIF supports them so that they do not end up in dialysis again,” he noted.

Meanwhile, Dr Mwangangi said the government is also working to establish a kidney diseases technical working group which will ensure streamlining in the treatment of kidney diseases. 

In the past year, over 285,000 dialysis treatments were done in the country.