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The other side of the canvas of Kidney Disease

16 November 2010

However the other side of the canvas tells a much different picture. Most Australians have little understanding of the extreme circumstances of the lives of many of the artists and their communities - people who live in appalling conditions with poor health and low life expectancy.

Transplant Australia, the national voice for organ and tissue donation and transplantation, today revealed that Australia had the potential to lose a generation of Indigenous Australians to a hidden epidemic of kidney disease.

This potential national tragedy in the making can be borne out by the following facts which reveal underlying barriers of access to transplantation and systemic issues of inequality when it comes to kidney disease treatment:

-          Indigenous Australians have a 25 per cent chance of receiving a kidney transplant compared to non-Indigenous Australians.

-          The death rates from Chronic Kidney Disease are 10 times higher for Indigenous Australians than for non-Indigenous Australians. For Indigenous men between the ages of 25 -34 the mortality rate is 38 times that of non Indigenous men and similarly for women it is 57 times the rate of their non Indigenous counterparts.

-          Indigenous people represent less than 2% of the national population, but they account for approximately 10% of all people commencing Renal Replacement Therapy (RRT) each year.

-          Underlying health issues are also complicating treatment. 70 per cent of Indigenous Australians presenting with End-Stage Renal Disease also have diabetes compared to 27 per cent of non-Indigenous people.

This emerging trend contrasts starkly with a lack of education and understanding about organ and tissue donation amongst Indigenous communities, according to Transplant Australia Chief Executive Officer, Chris Thomas.

Of the 1,328 organ donors between 2004 and 2009 just 11 (.8 of a per cent) were identified from an Aboriginal background yet Indigenous Australians represent 2.5 per cent of the population according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. This means they are two-thirds less likely to donate their organs than non-Indigenous Australians.

Mr Thomas believed it was crucial in the year of 2010 that Indigenous Australians had equal access to kidney disease treatment and transplantation.

Transplant Australia will be advocating for a series of outcome-based solutions addressing both sides of the organ and tissue donation and transplantation paradigm:

-          Education programs on donation directed specifically to Indigenous communities

-          Equity and access barriers to transplantation need to be broken down and removed to ensure equal chances of receiving a transplant.

-          More comprehensive community-based program of education about good kidney health needs to be developed with Indigenous people and rolled out in communities across Australia.

Mr Thomas was pleased that the Federal Government had recognised the problems facing Indigenous Australians and their health. It was now up to governments, community organisations, the health profession and Indigenous communities to find solutions to those problems.

“And what we have learned is that there are no quick fixes in this space. It’s tragic but unless urgent action is taken we could lose an entire generation of Indigenous Australians to kidney disease,” Mr Thomas said.

“The availability of dialysis in the community and home settings is vitally important, as described by Kidney Health Australia recently.

“However we need to break this nexus – to better educate young Indigenous people as to the problems of kidney disease and to make transplants more available.

“To achieve that goal we need to overhaul our eligibility criteria and waiting lists protocols to ensure equal access for Indigenous people, no matter their location. But equally Indigenous people need to embrace the other side of transplantation – organ and tissue donation. It’s a reality that the more compatible an organ is, the more likely a person will receive that transplant. And if few people from an Indigenous background are donating, it invariably limits the potential for a tissue match.”

Circle of Hope

To illustrate the challenge 10 Indigenous Australians on dialysis or facing kidney disease have painted 10 inspirational artworks representing a ‘circle of hope’.

These were displayed at a breakfast in Federal Parliament on the morning of Tuesday, November 16. Parliamentarians were invited to sign the last painting which was finished during the breakfast.


The Transplant Australia Malpa Circle of Hope Project has been possible by the generous provision of untied educational grants from Baxter, Diaverum, Fresenius, Genzyme, Janssen-Cilag, Pfizer, Roche.

Transplant Australia has received funding assistance for this project from the Organ and Tissue Authority.

 MALPA release