Kidney diseases: Here are the causes and what to do to keep safe

The recent announcement of the increase in the cost of dialysis at the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital (KBTH) has raised concerns about the affordability of treatment for patients with kidney failure.

It has been reported that the cost of dialysis has risen from GHS380 to GHS765.42. The announcement caused an uproar on social media, with the hospital administration’s defence being that the upward adjustment was a result of the recent increase in taxes.

Although a few patients have paid for dialysis at the announced price of GHS 765.42, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the hospital (KBTH), Dr Opoku Ware Ampomah, says Parliament is yet to approve the new price.

In this explainer, Fact-Check Ghana has compiled the causes, prevention, and treatment methods of kidney diseases.

Why kidneys are one of the most important organs in the body

Kidneys are vital organs that filter fluid and waste out of the blood. Each person is expected to have two kidneys, except for rare cases where some are born with one kidney. While our kidneys are expected to play this role, there are instances where they fail.

When the kidney is unable to perform its function of filtering the uric acid out of the bloodstream, there are two options available to the person. The person can opt for an interim measure of dialysis three times per week until a transplant, the long-term measure, is done.

The cost element of treatment

If the current price increase at the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital is approved, Kidney failure patients may need to pay almost GHS 2,300 per week culminating in an amount of GHS 9,185 per month for dialysis. If the Kidney patient is paid exactly according to Ghana’s minimum wage of GHS 14.88 per day, he/she cannot afford even one dialysis session at the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital.

A dialysis machine

Aside from the mandatory dialysis sessions, a patient is also required to buy medicine and eat recommended food supplements.

Who is at risk?

Although there are many causes of Kidney failure and chronic kidney disease, to be specific, the two most predominant causes are diabetes and high blood pressure. The other risks for developing kidney disease are positive family history, obesity, prolonged painkiller consumption or drug abuse, and existing severe cardiovascular disease.

Types of kidney diseases

There are different types of Kidney diseases but below is a list of the most common ones.

  1. Kidney stones: This is when minerals or salts are formed inside the kidneys. In some situations, they can form inside the tubes that carry urine from the kidneys.
  2. Kidney Infections: This type of infection can affect the ureter, urinary bladder, or urethra. However, when the infections spread to the kidneys, it is described as a kidney infection.
  3. Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD): It is a gradual loss of kidney function over time according to the National Kidney Foundation. In Ghana, 2019 data on chronic kidney indicates there is a prevalence of 13.5% in Ghana with the global prevalence estimated to be between 10-13%. It is usually caused by diabetes and hypertension.
  4. Acute Kidney Injury: This one can damage an infected person’s kidneys within a short period and may damage even the heart, lungs, and brain. The causes of acute kidney injury can easily be prevented as it involves accidents such as burns, shock, excessive bleeding, severe hydration, or drug abuse and usually occurs in the aged.
  5. Kidney cysts: This occurs when an injury or damage to the kidneys causes fluid to accumulate in a small area, leading to cyst They may not cause any symptoms until the formed cyst bleeds or grows bigger and sometimes bursts.
  6. Kidney cancer: Kidney cancer occurs when the cells in the kidney grow out of control. The most common type of kidney cancer is called renal cell carcinoma, accounting for about 90% of all kidney cancers according to the medical journal, MedicineNet. Kidney cancer can also be referred to as Wilms tumour or nephroblastoma in children.


All these types of Kidney diseases exhibit similar symptoms such as:

  1. An increase in the number of times a person urinates per day.
  2. Bloody urine
  3. Fever
  4. Abdominal pain.
  5. High Blood Pressure
  6. Itchy skin
  7. Abdominal Pain
  8. Repeated urinary tract infection,
  9. Foul/Smelly urine
  10. Nausea or Vomiting.

Treatment options available

Scientists suggest that the following are the treatment options available to a Kidney patient.

  1. Medication
  2. Dialysis
  3. Transplantation

What are the ways to prevent  Kidney failure?

While the cost of treatment available to a Kidney patient can be financially draining, here are preventable measures to take to stay safe.

  1. Lifestyle changes such as regular exercise (at least 30 minutes 5 times per week), a healthy amount of sodium is 2,300mg (1 teaspoon of salt) or less per day. One should avoid red meat (beef, bison, lamb, pork, venison & organ meats like liver etc.).
  2. Manage chronic conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure- The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has advised people with these conditions to keep their blood sugar levels within the target range as much as possible. The Center also recommends that you talk to your doctor as often as possible.
  3. Stay hydrated- Always ensure to drink enough water every day. Scientists recommend that men take about 15.5 cups (3.7 litres) of fluids a day while women take about 11.5 cups (2.7 litres) of fluids a day.
  4. Eat a balanced diet: While Scientists recommend that there’s the need to eat a balanced diet as a way to prevent kidney failure, they also cautioned that this might not be appropriate when a person suffers from Kidney failure, particularly in the early stages. They explain that: “Eating too much protein or sodium can put stress on the kidneys and lead to more damage. If kidney disease is more advanced, you might also need to watch your intake of foods or beverages that are high in potassium (such as beans, leafy greens, avocado, banana, and potatoes) and phosphorus (dairy, meats, poultry, fish, eggs, and nuts).”
  5. Avoid smoking and excessive consumption of alcohol: A 2021 study published in the World-acclaimed United States National Library of Medicines revealed that smoking is, and continues to be, a major causal factor for Kidney failure. The incidence, the Library said, has been shown to be “significantly higher among current and former smokers, and continued smoking thereafter has been associated with a nearly two-fold higher risk of death.”
    It is the same with excessive alcohol intake as well. Scientists, therefore, recommend a total cessation or minimal intake of these substances.
  6. Regular health check-ups to monitor kidney function: Aside from the measures listed above, regular health check-ups to monitor one’s Kidney function is the most effective preventive method. Scientists recommend either a yearly check-up or a biannual check-up.

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