On March 14, the world focused on kidney patients and kidney disease during World Kidney Day. It’s a time to recognize that kidney disease, which now affects 850 million people worldwide, is the 11th leading cause of global mortality. About 10 percent of the adult population has some form of chronic kidney disease.
The fact that people focused on kidney disease during World Kidney Day – and during National Kidney Month in March – is due in large part to retired Woodinville nephrologist Dr. William G. Couser. When Couser was president of the International Society of Nephrology in 2005, he led the organization’s effort to fund the campaign to create and promote the first World Kidney Day.
“It was one of the highlights of my time and presidency of the ISN,” said Couser, who retired as the Belding Scribner Professor of Medicine and Head of the Division of Nephrology at the University of Washington School of Medicine in 2004. “What did I accomplish during that time? Certainly, World Kidney Day would be one of the things I would be most proud of accomplishing.”
Couser said when the kidney doctors organized the first World Kidney Day in 2006, their goal was only to publish an editorial to spread the word about kidney disease to the medical community. They also wanted to provide educational resources for those in government,
education and healthcare in the United States and abroad. It worked. In the past 12 years World Kidney Day and National Kidney Month have taken on a life of their own, with the medical community, patients and dialysis providers like Northwest Kidney Centers locally creating all sorts of events around the day – from fundraisers to health fairs. This year World Kidney Day is being celebrated in 51 countries.
“World Kidney Day events have all been locally generated. It’s been fantastic. We never envisioned it going quite that far when we started it,” Couser said.
Initially, the kidney doctors were told they’d have to spend a half million dollars to create World Kidney Day. But they did it with a budget of only $50,000. “I think we proved that a small number of people with a good idea can actually accomplish quite a bit, even without a huge amount of money,” Couser said. “You can do things with a big impact if people are willing to get involved and volunteer.”
He and his colleagues traveled around the world to spread the word about World Kidney Day. “People would pick that up and institute celebrations in their own countries. We received pictures and stories about how successful World Kidney Day celebrations were in places like Ethiopia and India. Who would have thought?” Couser said.
One of the main benefits of World Kidney Day and National Kidney Month is that they offer opportunities to tell people about kidney health and how to avoid kidney disease. Kidney disease is common, harmful and treatable. Patients are encouraged to talk to their doctors and get tested if they’re at risk. Those at highest risk include: Anyone with diabetes or high blood pressure, the leading causes of kidney disease; those who have a relative with kidney disease; those who are overweight or over age 60; those who are of African, Asian, Pacific Islander, Native American or Hispanic descent.
Kidney health tests are simple and inexpensive: a blood test, urinalysis and blood pressure measurement. Other ways to keep kidneys healthy are to reduce salt, avoid over using over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen, and to stay fit.
Find more information about kidney disease prevention and treatment at www.nwkidney.org.