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Published in CenterView on March 12, 2012

UMMC nephrologists, MKF screening program raise kidney disease awareness

By Patrice Guilfoyle

About 30 percent of people who come to the Jackson Medical Mall Thad Cochran Center for kidney disease screenings are diagnosed with abnormalities.

The number is high considering the free screenings, which are offered three or four times annually, attract around 100-120 people each. The Mississippi Kidney Foundation and the Division of Nephrology at the University of Mississippi Medical Center collaborate on the Jackson screenings as part of REAP (Renal Evaluation and Assessment Program) to raise awareness of the disease that afflicts thousands of Mississippians and to assist people in getting the medical care they need.

"Mississippi routinely ranks among the worst three states in the country for kidney disease," said Dr. Luis Juncos, professor of nephrology. "That's expected because we have so much hypertension, obesity, poor access to health care and a large African-American population disproportionately affected by the disease."

Increasing patient loads have prompted the division to recruit additional faculty. Juncos said the division is actively working to expand specialized services to accommodate patient needs, from renal stones and difficult-to-control hypertension to glomerulonephritis (a disease of the kidney filters) and follow-up care for recently released hospital patients.

The next screening at the Medical Mall is scheduled from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on Wednesday, March 21. Gail Sweat, MKF executive director, said her office's phone is already ringing from public inquiries about the event.

"Without the help from the nephrologists at UMC, we couldn't pull it off," Sweat said. "Every time we have one at the medical mall, Dr. Juncos is there. Sometimes we rely on the help from the UMC lab technicians as well."

REAP is a free screening program designed to identify individuals at increased risk for kidney disease. Screenings are done in conjunction with health-care providers in cities around the state. Tests include a full renal panel, complete blood count, cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar checks and urinalysis.

"Because of these screenings, we were able to call Dr. Juncos' office on behalf of one person who needed medical help immediately," Sweat said. "We were able to get an appointment and the lady was able to start dialysis that day. That shows the importance of these screenings."

Individuals considered at risk for kidney disease have high blood pressure, diabetes or a family history of kidney disease. Additionally, African-Americans are four times more likely to develop kidney disease than Caucasians. More than 75 percent of African Americans in Jackson who have kidney failure also have diabetes or hypertension, according to the MKF. 

Kidney disease has five stages, and Sweat said most people don't know they have it until stage three or four. Stage five requires dialysis, and in some cases, a transplant.

"People are finding unless they go to a doctor and ask for the test, they're not getting it. These free screenings are critical," Sweat said.

Juncos said the Medical Center is involved in several studies about hypertension, chronic kidney disease and glomerulonephritis. The studies are currently focused on UMMC patients, but Juncos said they want to recruit patients from other areas of the state. He said the patients would continue to see their primary physicians while participating in the studies.

"We have the opportunity to look at these treatments and look at why renal disease is so advanced in African-Americans," he said.

Juncos also is a participant in the Chronic Kidney Disease Task Force, led by the Mississippi Department of Health. The group is seeking ways to provide better care throughout the state and the MKF is a major supporter of the mission.