KAPALA CHISUNKA, Lusaka
ZAMBIA recently joined the international community in commemorating the World Kidney Day; a day set aside to raise awareness on the importance of kidneys to a personâ€™s overall health.
World Kidney Day, which is commemorated every second Thursday of March, also aims at reducing the frequency and impact of kidney disease and its associated health problems world-wide.
This yearâ€™s World Kidney Day was commemorated under the theme: Kidney Health for all. Unlike many other known diseases, kidney disease is a silent killer which largely affects a personâ€™s life.
According to CHAMP chief medical officer Chibale Sakala, a lot of people do not know about kidneys and the role they play in the human body, how they function or what eventually happens to a person if kidneys do not function well.
CHAMP, is a non-governmental organisation established in 2002, to respond to the growing need for corporate HIV/AIDS programmes within Zambia.
Dr Sakala said that kidneys are important organs with many functions in the body including producing hormones, absorbing minerals, filtering blood and producing urine.
â€œThe kidney produces hormones to help regulate blood pressure, regulate red blood cells and help keep bones strong,â€ she said.
And while it is normal for a person to have one kidney, Dr Sakala said it is better for a person to have two kidneys. Being born with one kidney is a condition the doctor said is referred to as an absent kidney or solitary kidney, renal agenesis or renal dysplasia.
Apparently, being born with a single kidney is more common in males, and the left kidney is the one more often absent.
Other reasons a person may have one kidney could be that they lost one to disease or injury or they have donated a kidney to a family member or friend who might have lost their own.
Dr Sakala said people with one kidney lead normal, healthy lives. Some may not even know they have one kidney or one functioning kidney until they have an X-ray, sonogram, or surgery for an unrelated condition.
â€œFor women, having one kidney does not affect their fertility. It is possible to conceive and carry a pregnancy full-term although that would be done under medical monitoring. Because being pregnant with one kidney means that kidney is being over-worked,â€ she said.
Dr Sakala explained that there are several causes of infections to the kidney including untreated urinary tract infections (UTIs).
She said unlike men, women have short urethras which makes them more vulnerable to UTIs.
â€œThe fact that men have longer urethras than women makes women more prone to UTIs as infections move faster to the kidneys and if left untreated could lead to chronic kidney infections and might eventually cause the kidney to stop functioning properly,â€ Dr Sakala said.
And when the kidney stops functioning properly, Dr Sakala said there can be a build-up in toxins and affect the regulation of red blood cells and eventually lead to a person being anaemic or could result in high blood pressure.
Fortunately, there are ways that can help keep the kidney healthy and this can be done by adopting a healthier lifestyle.
Some of the tips include drinking at least 1.5 litres to two litres of water per day, avoid deliberately holding urine in the bladder as that increases the possibility of an infection, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.
â€œIt is also important to avoid taking too much alcohol as that affects the kidneys, avoid taking unnecessary medications such as antibiotics as they are cleared through the kidneys. It is also vital to generally go for regular medical check-up,â€ she said.
Her advice to women to avoid UTIs is to maintain high standards of cleanliness, avoid dirty toilets and public toilets.
â€œIf you really have to use a toilet, do not sit on a public toilet or splash when urinating because you donâ€™t know what could be in that toilet. And always wipe front to back after urinating. But if the toilet is really too dirty, please do not use it as thatâ€™s putting yourself at risk of infection,â€ she said.
However, Dr Sakala said it can take many years for chronic kidney disease to go to kidney failure as some symptoms of kidney disease can be subtle.
In fact, most people with chronic kidney disease live their lives without ever having kidney failure. It is said that fore-warned is fore-armed and knowing the symptoms of kidney disease is important.
Some of the symptoms of kidney disease are:
Changes in urination;
*Urine may be foamy or bubbly.
*Urinating more often with pale urine.
*Or urinating less and in smaller amounts with dark-coloured urine.
*Urine may contain blood or feeling pressure or having difficulties urinating.
Other symptoms are swelling of legs, feet, face, and hands as a result of failing kidneys, skin rash, metallic taste in mouth or ammonia breath, nausea and vomiting, shortness of breath, feeling cold due to anaemia, dizziness and leg pain.
Dr Sakala, however, said treatment for kidney diseases is available in Zambia through dialysis machines which act as kidneys outside the body. The service is offered at the University Teaching Hospital and some private hospitals.
She explained that although as CHAMP, they do not have specific programmes but the organisation works with government in many of the health projects.
KAPALA CHISUNKA, Lusaka