African-American children and adolescents, regardless of gender, geographic location or family income, wait longer than white children for kidney transplants, according to a study from Johns Hopkins University’s Department of Pediatrics published in the October 2000 edition of the Journal of Pediatrics. The study examined data on 3,200 patients age 19 or younger in the final stage of kidney failure, known as end-stage renal disease (ESRD). The research found African-American young people with ESRD are 12% less likely than Caucasians to be on a waiting list for a donor kidney.
Although individuals with ESRD can be treated with dialysis, which rids the blood of wastes, a kidney transplant is more cost-effective and successful, allowing children a much better survival rate.
While the study does not examine why a disparity exists between African-American and Caucasian children’s access to kidney transplants, lead researcher Dr. Susan L. Furth suggests that African Americans who have ESRD may see a specialist later than others, may not receive the required paperwork needed to get on the list or may have a harder time receiving access to health care in general. But she also does not rule out “the possibility of physician bias as a cause of racial differences in identifying potential transplant candidates.”
This disparity continues despite the federal government’s efforts to solve the problem in 1972. Congress passed legislation that offered Medicaid benefits to anyone who was experiencing end-stage renal failure. Furth explains that this legislation was meant to “achieve equal access to the life-saving but expensive therapies of dialysis and transplantation…by removing financial barriers to care.” But still, “access to transplantation” continues to be a problem for African Americans, the Johns Hopkins study concludes.