An epidemic of renal failure among Australian Aboriginals

Med J Aust. 1998 Jun 1;168(11):537-41. doi: 10.5694/j.1326-5377.1998.tb139080.x.


Objective: To define recent trends (1993-1996) in incidence of endstage renal disease (ESRD) among Australian Aboriginal people in the Top End of the Northern Territory (NT).

Design: Analysis of hospital and clinical records of the Darwin-based ESRD treatment program from 1993 to 1996 and comparison with data accumulated since 1978.

Participants: All people entering the ESRD treatment program from 1978 to 1996.

Main outcome measures: Number of patients treated for ESRD; their ethnicity, age and sex; comorbidities in Aboriginal patients; treatment methods and outcomes.

Results: More Aboriginal people presented with ESRD between 1993 and 1996 (87) than in the previous 15 years of the program (68). The incidence of ESRD in Aboriginals reached 838 per million in 1996, and is doubling every 4 years. Aboriginal people presenting with ESRD are younger than non-Aboriginal people with ESRD, and, in contrast to non-Aboriginals, ESRD rates are higher in women than men. The numbers and proportions of Aboriginal ESRD patients who have hypertension, type 2 diabetes and cardiac disease are rising. Haemodialysis remains the most common form of treatment, and the number of dialysis treatments is doubling every 2.5 years. Only 9% of Aboriginal patients entering the program in 1993-1996 were treated with chronic ambulatory peritoneal dialysis and only 3% received transplants. Despite their younger age, survival of Aboriginal people on dialysis is low (median 3.3 years v. 6.5 years in non-Aboriginals), and graft survival after transplant is poor (37% at 5 years v. 88% in non-Aboriginals). Survival has not improved in the past 4 years, with fewer deaths from infection offset by more deaths from cardiovascular disease.

Conclusions: The predicted doubling of ESRD incidence among Aboriginal people by the year 2000 will add an enormous burden to limited resources. Risk factors for renal disease underlie all the excess morbidity and mortality in NT Aboriginal adults, and arise out of accelerated lifestyle changes and socioeconomic disadvantage. Better living conditions and education, robust and integrated primary healthcare programs, and systematic screening for early renal disease and treatment of those with established disease are all matters of urgency.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Australia / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / epidemiology*
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / etiology*
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / therapy
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander / statistics & numerical data*
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Distribution
  • Survival Rate