Background: An epidemic of end-stage renal disease (ESRD) is accompanying the rising rates of hypertension, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease among Aborigines in the Northern Territory of Australia. Incidence rates are now 21 times those of nonAboriginal Australians and are doubling every four years. We describe the rates and associations of renal disease in one remote community, which has a current ESRD incidence of 2700 per million, and cardiovascular mortality among the highest in Australia.
Methods: Between 1992 and 1995 a community-wide screening program was conducted, in which the urinary albumin/creatinine ratio (ACR) was used as the chief renal disease marker. More than 90% of the population ages five and older participated.
Results: Albuminuria was evident in early childhood and increased dramatically with age; 26% of adults had microalbuminuria and 24% had overt albuminuria. All renal failure developed out of a background of overt albuminuria. ACR was significantly correlated with the presence of scabies at screening, with a history of poststreptococcal glomerulonephritis, which is epidemic and endemic in the community, with increasing body wt, blood pressure, glucose, insulin and lipid levels, and with evidence of heavy drinking. ACR was also significantly and inversely correlated with birth weight. As a result of its association with deteriorating hemodynamic and metabolic profiles, increasing ACR was also correlated with increasing cardiovascular risk score. Direct observations showed, and multivariate models predicted, progressive amplification of ACR when multiple risk factors were present simultaneously. Albuminuria also clustered in families.
Conclusion: Renal disease in this population is multifactorial, with risk factors related to whole-of-life nutrition, metabolic and hemodynamic profiles, infections, health behaviors, and possibly a family predisposition. Its relationship to low birth weight, and its associations with deteriorating metabolic and hemodynamic profiles, suggest that renal disease is, in part, a component of Syndrome X, which explains the simultaneous increase in metabolic, cardiovascular and renal disease in Aboriginal people. The family clustering might have both environmental and genetic causes, and is under further investigation. Most of the identified risk factors arise out of poverty, disadvantage and accelerated lifestyle change, and the current epidemic can be explained by the confluence of many risk factors in the last few decades. The introduction of effective and sustained programs to address social, economic and educational inequities in all Aboriginal communities, and of screening and renal- and cardiovascular-protective treatment programs for those already afflicted are matters of great urgency.