• 1 in 5 Indigenous Australians have indicators of chronic kidney disease. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
One in five Indigenous Australians have indicators of kidney disease, but many don't know it. Specialists are calling on the community to get their kidneys checked this week.
Rachael Hocking

10 Apr 2019 - 10:28 AM  UPDATED 10 Apr 2019 - 10:28 AM

Maurice Serico is a proud Gubbi Gubbi and Yiman man whose life was turned upside down when he was diagnosed with a severe form of kidney disease when he was just 15-years-old. 

"Up until then I was just a normal kid. I participated in school athletics and enjoyed going to school. Participated in the school musical and stuff like that, going to the beach, bush walking," he says. 

One day while walking with a friend, Maurice says he felt a fever coming on. He went home and passed urine 'the colour of black coffee'.

"That meant there was lots of blood in my urine, and that was the start of a particular kind of disease," he says.

"By the time I was 40 my kidneys had completely failed and I needed dialysis."

Maurice lives with Berger's disease, a common kidney condition with no precise cause. But kidney disease is most often associated with lifestyle factors, such as smoking, diabetes and obesity. 

"If one of my rellies came up to me and said, how do you deal with kidney disease? How do you keep your kidneys healthy? Knowing our mob I'd say, first of all, make sure that you've got your sugar under control," Maurice says. 

The "silent killer"

According to Kidney Health Australia (KHA) one in five Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have indicators of kidney disease, but most don't know it or are fearful of finding out. Kidney specialist Dr Shilpa Jesudason calls it 'the silent killer'. 

"You can lose 90% of your kidney function without having any symptoms at all," she says.

This week marks Kidney Health Week and specialists like Dr Jesudason are calling on the community to take the risk test on the KHA website, and get a kidney health check-up at a local clinic or Aboriginal Medical Service. 

"it's very simple: it's having a general health checkup. It's getting your blood  pressure done, which is a very simple test, and then a very simple blood test and urine test," Dr Jesudason says. 

"Stay connected" 

People living remote are twice as likely than those in non-remote areas to have indicators of kidney disease, and for Indigenous communities being diagnosed can come with the added weight of having to move off country for treatment.

The Purple House provide mobile renal health care and have become integral in allowing communities receiving dialysis to travel back on country for cultural obligations, and to be with family. 

Northern Territory MP Chansey Paech says the health service, which received a second truck this week, has become essential for "people requiring renal treatment in the bush". Experts say Indigenous-led solutions, like Purple House, are critical in tackling the high rates of kidney disease.

"Having local champions who can tell the story about chronic diseases, including kidney disease, can teach people about going and getting checked, and how to live the best life that they can with chronic diseases and be as healthy as possible," Dr Jesudason says. 

Maurice says depression is a common complication for who've been diagnosed with chronic kidney disease. He says finding connections in the community can be the key to living a meaningful life.

"For me I find it really important to try to make as many connections both socially and professionally in the renal health field. Just because I can't work full-time doesn't mean I can't do anything," he says. 

"I've been doing dialysis for 18 years and you shouldn't feel ashamed getting support even though you've been doing it for so long, there's always something new you can learn to help you cope with something like that."

Shorten promises ‘most significant investment in Medicare since Hawke’
The Opposition Leader has made an election-eve pitch to voters, promising tax cuts and a major boost to Australian healthcare.
Eye health experts call for $86 million to increase services for Indigenous communities
Indigenous Australians are three times more likely than their non-Indigenous counterparts to suffer from blindness and vision loss.
Indigenous kidney health: Ken Wyatt plans to overturn low transplant rates
The federal government has announced $2.3 million dollars of funding towards improving Indigenous Australians organ transplant numbers.