Being Above Average is Not Always Something to Be Proud Of

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Q&A with Tamara Ruggiero, vice president of communications and marketing from the American Kidney Fund

The number of Americans with chronic kidney disease (CKD) is on a rise. Thirty-one million people are affected by the disease. The shocking part is that Washington, D.C., rates of the disease are above the national average. Why is that? RBT spoke with Tamara Ruggiero, vice president of communications and marketing for the American Kidney Fund (AKF), about the organization, CKD prevention as well as the new Pair Up campaign.

The AKF has been  reaching out and helping those who have limited access to health care for over 40 years. They focus on early detection and prevention of CKD by offering screenings to people across the country.  In 2011, 22,615 individuals were screened in 22 cities in the U.S. The ones screened directly by the AKF, 15,270 (the rest were screened by partners), 8,436 were screened at large events, 6,376 were screened at community MIKE events, and 458 were screened at sorority and/or fraternity community events. The AKF's findings showed that:

  • 60% of participants were uninsured
  • 78%  of participants were unaware of simple tests to determine kidney function before attending the event
  • 11% of participants were found to be at-risk (eGFR<60)

Here are some answers to questions you might be curious about in regards to the AKF, their upcoming event, campaign and why D.C. is above average on this list.

RBT Is the Kidney Action Day that will take place Saturday, September 8 the first one for the American Kidney Fund to host?

Ruggiero No, each year we do several Kidney Action Days around the country. This year we did one in Chicago in May and this will be our second one of 2012 and we have a few more coming up later in the fall in San Antonio, Houston and Atlanta.

RBT Free screening exams will be provided to those who attend the event and are 18 years and older. What will you be checking during these screenings?

Ruggiero At this event we will be doing three different tests. One is a blood draw to check their kidney function, so that's a complete blood draw. A glucose test will be given to check the blood glucose levels and a blood pressure test. Patients will get the glucose test and blood pressure test on the spot and will be mailed the blood results within a week.

RBT How did you gather the information that states that the D.C. area is most at risk for CKD?

Ruggiero There are a couple sources where you can find the data for kidney failure in the U.S. One is the USRDS report that comes out each year. The other is the National Minority Quality Minority Forum who publishes a CKD Atlas that lets you drill down and look county by county throughout the United States and lets you see what the kidney failure rates are as well as the kidney disease rates.

RBT Why are the rates of kidney failure so high in D.C. compared to other areas in the U.S.

Ruggiero Many parts of the D.C. metro area are above the national average just like a lot of urban areas are around the country. In fact, the area right around where we are having the Kidney Action Days Event, the rate in kidney failure in that area of Prince George's County is about four times the national average. 

There are various factors that go into it. Certainly demographics is a major factor. For example, African Americans are almost four times more likely to develop kidney failure than Caucasians, so that's a big factor. Another factor is the lack of access to health care. We find that about 60 percent of the people we screen are uninsured. If someone we are screening doesn't receive regular medical check-ups they may not know that they are at risk for kidney disease. As you may know, since kidney disease have no symptoms till its late stages, very often people develop kidney failure without realizing they had a kidney problem.

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