Local experts say it’s no surprise that more than one-third of the members of a revitalized statewide task force targeting chronic kidney disease are from San Antonio.

Eleven Texans per thousand are diagnosed with kidney failure, but on the South Side of San Antonio, that number jumps to 33 per thousand, said Anil Mangla, a task force member who recently retired as director of public health at the University of the Incarnate Word School of Osteopathic Medicine.

Mangla is one of eight San Antonio medical professionals and experts appointed recently by Gov. Greg Abbott to develop a coordinated plan to prevent, treat, and educate the public on chronic kidney disease, which often is called a “silent killer” because it develops over time and patients can show no symptoms.

“The task force will work to make sure that people are as aware of the importance of screening for chronic kidney disease as they are of screening for cancer,” Mangla said. “This disease is just as bad [as cancer], and people largely don’t know about it. Our role is to work to change that.”

More than one in seven Americans are living with kidney disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Diabetes and heart disease are the leading causes of kidney disease and kidney failure, and more than 90 percent don’t know they have it. 

The cost of treating chronic kidney disease, which can include medication, dialysis, and for some patients, a transplant, averages $80,000 per year.

The chronic kidney disease task force had lapsed in recent years, but in June, the Texas Legislature moved to reestablish it.

The 18-person task force will be chaired by Dr. Francisco Cigarroa, a local transplant surgeon at UT Health San Antonio who previously served as the institution’s president and as chancellor of the UT system. The other San Antonians in the group include Dr. Bruce Brockway, Dr. Navid Saigal, Dr. Francis Wright, Dr. Reza Mizani, and Dr. Kumar Sharma.

Sharma, chief of nephrology and vice chair of research in the Department of Medicine at UT Health San Antonio, said that San Antonio’s high rates of diabetes, hypertension, and immunologic and genetic diseases, creates a “perfect storm” for high rates of kidney failure. 

“There are a lot of things we can do to be a leader in developing innovative ways to educate people and bring in new treatment, and we are really well-suited in terms of the skills that we have, especially at the academic medical center,” Sharma said.

Texas Kidney Foundation CEO Tiffany Jones-Smith, another appointee, hopes her personal experience with chronic kidney disease will be beneficial to her role on the task force. Nine of her family members succumbed to the disease, and her brother was recently diagnosed in 2019.

“There is a lot of fear attached when people have a chronic illness, which can prevent people from receiving the appropriate treatment or even being screened regularly for diseases,” Jones-Smith said. “Our goal will be to demonstrate on a large scale how individuals and communities can deal with a problem like this.”

At the end of the year, the task force will publish a report on best practices for treatment and educating the public about the disease.

“The increase in the number of diagnoses of kidney disease and failure has been tremendous over the last two to three decades, and we have the opportunity to help,” Sharma said. “Texas happens to be one of the places where kidney disease progresses the fastest throughout the country, and our hope is to have a major impact on that.”

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.