Editorial: Prioritize kidney health

The Filipino gustatory world is bracketed by the salty and the fried. Meals stretch and stories flow as unbounded as the love for the tangy and the crispy.

This diet is in no small measure responsible for our national ills and aches.

Rich in salt and fats, a diet will interfere over time with the functioning of kidneys. Excessive salt spikes blood pressure, which in turn constricts the blood vessels in the kidneys, preventing these from removing excess fluid and all wastes from the body.

The cost of our cultural affinity for the fried and salted dishes of our heritage is chronic kidney disease (CKD), for one.

“One Filipino develops chronic renal failure every hour,” reports the National Kidney and Transplant Institute (NKTI).

This translates to about 120 Filipinos per million population per year.

According to the NKTI, more than 5,000 Filipino patients are undergoing hemodialysis, a procedure that assists and eventually replaces ailing kidneys in the life-saving function of cleansing the blood of toxins.

Renal replacement therapy is costly, more so because many persons stricken with CKD require maintenance dialysis, starting with twice-a-week procedures that increase in frequency as the CKD progresses.

CKD is often described as a rich person’s illness. Ironically, it afflicts the young and the old with limited economic means.

Food that is readily accessible to the working class is often convenience food high in sodium and other preservatives: salted fish, canned food, instant noodles, street food, fast food, chips, and others collectively referred to as “junk food.”

The Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (Philhealth) has been increasing its payment of dialysis claims each year, spending P12.6 billion for 2.7 million claims in 2020; P14 billion for 2.9 million dialysis claims in 2021 for an 11.4 percent increase from 2020; and a projected P17 billion for the 3.6 million claims in 2022.

In a Nov. 17, 2022 press release, Rep. Marvin C. Rillo of the Fourth District of Quezon City said that the dialysis claims payments accounted for 15.8 percent of the aggregate P88.3 billion spent by the Philhealth in 2021 to cover all claims for illnesses, treatments, and procedures.

Although the Philhealth has extended the coverage of its members’ outpatient dialysis treatments from 90 to 144 sessions in 2022, many persons on maintenance dialysis appeal for financial and medical assistance from politicians, local governments, and institutions like the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor), which prioritizes the requests of patients undergoing dialysis and chemotherapy.

The physical toll of regularly commuting and waiting for one’s outpatient dialysis session in hospitals and dialysis centers compounds the stress arising from the dialysis procedure, the expenses not covered by the Philhealth, and the rigors of seeking sponsors for financial and medical aid.

Poor patients are made more vulnerable by poor nutrition and irregular and insufficient access to dialysis due to lack of resources.

In Quezon City, the barangays of U.P. Campus and Doña Imelda recently entered into a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with the Passion Healthcare Philippines Inc. to implement Dialysis Centers Para Sa Bayan.

Rillo said that the project aims to give barangay residents’ access to safe and free hemodialysis.

If replicated in other barangays, the Dialysis Centers Para Sa Bayan will not only enhance the quality of life of persons on maintenance dialysis but also liberate many families from the burdens of sustaining a costly medical procedure.

In the long term, the country’s health stakeholders must push for better health information, education, and communication (IEC) to make citizens aware of the importance of better nutrition, monitoring of one’s health, and maintenance of exercise and fitness regimens.

Eating vegetables and planting pocket urban gardens are relatively inexpensive alternatives for better health.