Speech by Hon Kevin Andrews MP

Address at the launch of National Kidney Health Week


Thank you Tim for shining a light on the realities of kidney disease and its impact on the nation’s health.

I’d like to begin by acknowledging:

  • Anne Wilson, the Chief Executive of Kidney Health Australia
  • Parliamentary colleagues
  • Distinguished guests
  • And to those patients living with kidney disease, especially Nick

I’d also like to acknowledge Kidney Health Australia and the progress it has made to improve the lives of patients living with kidney disease and their families.

For more than 40 years, your organisation has promoted good kidney health through education, advocacy, research and support activities, and on behalf of the Australian Government, I express our gratitude.

Congratulations too on the launch of the ‘KidneyCheck’ – an at home test for people with a chronic condition like diabetes or high blood pressure to check for indicators of kidney damage.

This is the first self-management test of its kind for kidney health in Australia.

Any initiative that makes it easier for Australians to self-monitor their health is a positive step.

As we know, the insidious nature of kidney disease means that up to 90 per cent of kidney function can be lost before symptoms become evident, so KidneyCheck will help many patients with chronic conditions detect kidney damage sooner.

Early detection and prevention, along with research, are vital if we are to reduce the impact of kidney disease in Australia.

Sadly, more than 1.7 million Australians are estimated to have some form of chronic kidney disease, with more than 18,000 Australians requiring a kidney transplant or dialysis in order to stay alive.

The lifestyle choices we make each day – particularly around diet and exercise – are imperative when it comes to maintaining good kidney health.

Obesity, physical inactivity and a poor diet are risk factors that also contribute to – and are impacted by – other chronic diseases including diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Today, about nine out of every ten Australians don’t eat enough fruit and vegetables, and more than half of us don’t get enough exercise, which is contributing to the overweight and obesity problem the nation is facing.

As highlighted in the State of the Nation report, more than 6 out of 10 people living with chronic kidney disease are overweight or obese, and some of these cases could have been prevented.

The impacts aren’t just on individuals and their families, but also on the health system.

Figures from 2004-05 found that kidney disease accounted for almost $900 million or 1.7 per cent of total health care expenditure, with dialysis alone accounting for two-thirds of this cost.

Today, the economic burden is likely to be much higher.

While governments and the healthcare sector have an important role to play to encourage and support people to be healthy, we can’t make people eat a balanced diet or strap them to a treadmill.

We as individuals must accept more personal responsibility for our own health and the health of our families.

It’s not always easy, but support is readily available for those who want to make meaningful changes to their lifestyle.

You’d all be aware of the historic announcement in the Federal Budget earlier this month that the Government will establish a $20 billion Medical Research Future Fund that will invest in cure and discovery research.

This unprecedented investment will give our nation’s top minds every opportunity to discover better treatments and even cures, and will no doubt support projects with both direct and indirect benefits to kidney health.

The capital-protected fund will, within six years, be the biggest medical research endowment fund in the world – something we can all be very proud of.

When mature, the fund will realise an estimated $1 billion a year to support basic, applied and translational research in priority clinical areas with a focus on better health outcomes for patients.

Every dollar invested in medical research is estimated to deliver around $2.17 in health benefits, so this important investment will underpin the health system of the future and drive innovation in healthcare delivery.

The Medical Research Future Fund will be in addition to our very significant existing investment in research through the National Health and Medical Research Council, which is about $850 million a year.

In the latest funding round in February, the Australian Government announced 153 grants to find new health treatments and cures. This included grants that target kidney disease. For example:

  • University of Sydney researchers are looking to establish predictors for people with chronic disease so cardiovascular problems can be prevented,
  • Queensland University of Technology researchers are undertaking a project that will assist elderly people with end stage kidney disease to make appropriate decisions regarding their treatment, and
  • James Cook University researchers are looking to identify successful strategies that have been used in Indigenous communities to reduce chronic diseases such as kidney disease.

I’m proud of this government’s investment to resurrect Australia’s standing as a nation of medical innovators.

Thank you for the invitation to be here this morning, and for the opportunity to speak with people living with kidney disease to hear firsthand about their experiences of our health system.

Kidney health is something we should think about more often than most of us do.

I welcome the launch of Kidney Health Week and all the hard work and passion that Kidney health Australia brings to raising awareness about kidney disease.

I encourage Australians to take this opportunity to consider whether their lifestyle choices may be impacting on their kidney health, and to contact their doctor if they have any concerns.

Thank you.