A crowd of people
  • Nearly 750,000 patients per year in the United States and an estimated 2 million patients worldwide are affected by kidney failure.
  • Those who live with kidney failure are 1% of the U.S. Medicare population but account for 7% of the Medicare budget.
  • More than 100,000 patients in the United States are on the kidney transplant list, but last year there were just over 21,000 donor organs available for transplant.
  • The need for donor kidneys in the United States is rising at 8% per year.

2018 figures

United States

Kidney failure affects almost 750,000 people per year in the United States. The disease disproportionately affects the nation’s minority and low-income patients. Compared to whites:

  • African Americans are 3.5 times more likely to have kidney failure.
  • Native Americans are 1.5 times more likely to have kidney failure.
  • Hispanics are 1.5 times more likely to have kidney failure.

Mortality rates vary depending on the kidney failure treatment. After one year of treatment, those on dialysis have a 15-20% mortality rate, with a 5-year survival rate of under 50%. Persons who receive transplants have a survival rate of about 80% after 5 years.


Internationally the numbers are staggering. Estimates are that 2 million people worldwide suffer from kidney failure, and the number of patients diagnosed with the disease continues to increase at a rate of 5-7% per year. Taiwan, Japan, Mexico, the United States, and Belgium currently have the highest prevalence of kidney failure. And while extensive data on worldwide mortality rates is lacking, a 2007 report shows that U.S. mortality risk was 15% higher than in Europe and 33% higher than in Japan on comparable treatment modalities.

Treatment options

At present, kidney failure patients have two treatment options:

  1. Transplantation: live and deceased donor kidneys
  2. Dialysis: hemodialysis or peritoneal dialysis


The best current treatment for kidney failure is kidney transplantation, which requires a donor match, major surgery, and a lifetime regimen of immunosuppressant medications to prevent rejection. For those kidney failure patients able to receive a kidney transplant, the outlook is positive; the five-year survival rate for transplant recipients is over 80%. But:

  • There is an acute shortage of donor organs for kidney failure patients. There are more than 100,000 kidney failure patients on the U.S. transplant wait list.  In 2016, 20,161 kidney transplants were performed in the United States.
  • The need for donor kidneys is rising at 8% per year, yet their availability has not grown to match.
  • The transplanted live kidney is treated by the body as a foreign object and, as a result, the patient must take immunosuppressants for the life of the transplant. These drugs can have numerous side effects. And because immunosuppressants block the immune system, the transplant recipient is at a greater risk for infections and cancers. The patient’s own immune system is the single largest challenge to the success of a kidney transplant when the donor and recipient are not genetically identical.


The only alternative today to kidney transplantation is dialysis.

  • Hemodialysis involves pumping a patient’s blood through an external circuit for filtration before it is pumped back into the body. A typical hemodialysis schedule is three sessions per week, for 3-5 hours per session at a medical facility.
  • Peritoneal dialysis uses the patient’s own abdomen across which waste is exchanged from the blood and flushed out regularly through a permanent tube in the abdomen. Peritoneal dialysis does not require regular trips to a medical facility but still requires regular treatment at home.

Hemodialysis is the far more common type of dialysis—about 90% of all dialysis patients.

While effective in the short term, hemodialysis has drawbacks:

  • It is confining and inconvenient; patients are tethered to a machine for three- to four-hour sessions in a clinic three times per week.
  • Dialysis is exhausting for patients and fraught with morbidity and eventual mortality. 35% of hemodialysis patients remain alive after five years of treatment.


Medicare coverage is extended to a person of any age who requires either dialysis or transplantation to maintain life. The almost 750,000 people who live with kidney failure are 1% of the U.S. Medicare population but account for roughly 7% of the Medicare budget.

  • Medicare spending for kidney failure patients is at $35 billion in 2016.
  • Hemodialysis care costs the Medicare system an average of $90,000 per patient annually in the United States, for a total of $28 billion.
  • Spending for transplant patient care is $3.4 billion.
  • The Kidney Project will save the Medicare budget $15 billion annually once the bioartificial kidney is available to eligible patients who are on dialysis or unable to get a transplant.


United States Renal Data System. 2018 USRDS annual data report: Epidemiology of kidney disease in the United States. National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, Bethesda, MD, 2018.

Publications based on USRDS data reported in the Annual Data Report or on the USRDS web site or supplied upon request must include the above citation and the following notice: The data reported here have been supplied by the United States Renal Data System (USRDS). The interpretation and reporting of these data are the responsibility of the author(s) and in no way should be seen as an official policy or interpretation of the U.S. government.

KidneyX Innovation Accelerator Statistics accessed 9/19/19