Applause for Cornwall Regional Hospital staff
Staff of the Cornwall Regional Hospital's renal unit Marsha Stoddart (left) and Tashagay Campbell were happy to serve their patients during last year's World Kidney Awareness Week.

Jamaicans know, or should know, that our health-care professionals are typically underpaid and overworked.

So, it's an admirable thing when they find the time and energy to not only treat the sick but also go out of their way to proactively seek to prevent and/or alleviate ailments.

In that regard, we are struck by news that this week — which is World Kidney Awareness Week — staff at Cornwall Regional Hospital are hosting activities to raise awareness about chronic kidney disease and renal failure.

Health experts say kidney failure is often the last stage for people suffering chronic illnesses such as diabetes and hypertension — which are the leading causes of renal failure globally.

When kidneys fail — the end stage of five stages of renal disease — the body is unable to naturally rid itself of liquid waste. Dialysis, involving medical experts using appropriate and expensive equipment, is the artificial process of getting the job done.

A huge problem for Jamaica and other poor, under-resourced countries is that dialysis — which ideally should be done three times weekly, but often occur only twice weekly — is extremely expensive, bringing great strain on the public health system.

All major hospitals with renal units have long waiting lists — numbering hundreds in some cases — and the unfortunate fact is that some people die before accessing dialysis treatment.

Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton said recently that for those renal patients who access private health-care facilities the weekly cost of dialysis treatment can be up to $45,000.

Yet, as Dr Tufton and others in the health system often tell us, kidney disease, like other non-communicable ailments, can be prevented; and even controlled following early detection.

Proper diet and regular physical exercise are central to prevention and control. Hence the importance of educational activities such as are being planned by Cornwall Regional Hospital staff.

Ms Georgette Lee-Green, a patient care assistant at the hospital, told our reporter that an important aspect of the seminars this week will be to educate people "about what renal failure is and what dialysis is, because I don't believe that the public is adequately informed or they even know what it is… People who have cancer are supported, but I believe that persons who are on dialysis need to be treated fairly just the same…"

She also pointed to the value of an awareness drive to sensitise the public on how to prevent the disease.

"We know that the two main causes of renal failure are high blood pressure and [elevated] blood sugar. Kidney disease affects everybody. We have patients who are in high school and some who are retired, so it affects people of all ages, but it mostly affects people who are diabetic and suffer from high blood pressure…" Ms Lee-Green stated.

Often renal patients also need blood, so Cornwall Regional staff are organising a blood collection drive for Saturday in Sam Sharpe Square between 9:00 am and 5:00 pm. Says Ms Lee-Green: "We know that renal patients don't produce blood like a healthy person would, so sometimes their blood count is low, and we have to send them to the blood bank for blood, but there is no blood there…"

Like all well-thinking Jamaicans, we applaud an initiative that should be emulated far and wide.

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