Kidney care in the path to low-carbon health systems

Qutaiba Al-Manaseer
Thursday 14 Mar 2024

Today is World Kidney Day, and an opportunity not just to draw attention to the importance of kidney health – which is too often overlooked – but also to connect the dots between our kidneys, carbon, and climate change, for the benefit of both people and our planet.

 

There is increasing awareness of the health industry’s contribution to carbon emissions and climate change. If you combine the energy it takes to run services across the healthcare value chain, from hospitals to the production and manufacture of medicines, healthcare is responsible for an estimated 5 percent of global emissions. From another perspective, if healthcare was a country, it would be the 5th highest emitter in the world, making it a bigger polluter than air travel. 

What few people know is that kidney care has a disproportionately high carbon footprint, as well as produces nearly a million tonnes of plastic waste every year. However, by adopting preventative approaches to drive early diagnosis and treatment of kidney diseases, we can decarbonise the patient pathway; driving down emissions, enhancing health system resilience and improving the lives of patients.

Today is World Kidney Day, and an opportunity not just to draw attention to the importance of kidney health – which is too often overlooked – but also to connect the dots between our kidneys, carbon, and climate change, for the benefit of both people and our planet. 

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) affects 850 million people worldwide and is a leading cause of death. The Middle East and North Africa have experienced a staggering 70 percent rise in the disease over the last three decades, higher than any other part of the world. CKD has no cure, and left untreated requires interventions like dialysis and transplantation, which are not only invasive and costly for patients and health systems, but also hugely carbon intensive.

A study of 20,000 patients on dialysis showed that, over one year, this treatment produced the equivalent emissions to 312 million kilometres of car travel, enough to circumnavigate the world nearly 8,000 times. When you consider that an estimated 71,000 people in the Middle East and two million people worldwide are currently on dialysis, the case for intervening before this treatment is required becomes crystal clear. 

The good news is, there are actions we can take to improve the lives of people with CKD while also reducing its climate impact and improving equitable access to quality care, with countries like UAE and Egypt providing successful models of how to achieve this. 

At COP28 last year, the Abu Dhabi Public Health Centre of the Department of Health, AstraZeneca, and SEHA, a Pure Health Group company, launched a joint project to reduce healthcare-related emissions with a focus on chronic kidney disease. Eco-friendly healthcare facilities, more efficient care delivery methods and the use of medical equipment are all part of the initiative, which also shows the importance of collaboration across the industry to tackle climate change and improve health outcomes.  Also launched in 2023, a partnership between AstraZeneca and the Egyptian Health Authority is driving earlier diagnoses of CKD through public awareness, screening and health worker training, with the aim of testing 200,000 people for the disease over the coming year. This leadership can support other countries across the region to see the combined benefits of improving kidney care in a way that also reduces the climate impact on the health sector.   

Both UAE and Egypt’s programmes recognise the importance of both awareness and early screening. The major risk factors for CKD are high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity and each of these conditions has also increased sharply in prevalence in the region in recent years.  Better care and monitoring of people living with these and other risk factors will help avert the rise in cases of CKD. At the same time, early detection enables those who have already developed CKD to start treatment before the disease progresses, increasing cost-effectiveness, reducing carbon impact, and improving outcomes for patients. Routine screening of high-risk groups can help drive this early detection and should be an approach considered by policymakers in our region. 

In recognition of this unmet need in the region and the interconnections between heart and kidney health, Healthy Heart Africa, a programme launched in 2014 to support countries to tackle the growing burden of heart disease, is expanding its efforts to include kidney disease. The programme has successfully identified 10 million people across Africa with elevated blood pressure, trained over 10,000 healthcare workers and supported 1,300 healthcare facilities to provide services related to heart disease. In partnership with governments and local stakeholders, the expanded programme will encompass education, screening, and access to sustainable care. 

CKD is a silent killer, which too often goes undetected and untreated, the consequences of which reach far beyond the patients and their families. We can and must take action to improve kidney health across the Middle East and Africa, not only for the benefit of patients, their families and communities but also to aid efforts to build low-carbon, sustainable and resilient health systems. 

* Qutaiba Al-Manaseer is Corporate Affairs Director, Middle East and Africa, AstraZenec

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