Tens of thousands of manual laborers in Central America are dying of chronic kidney disease (CKD). The victims are primarily sugarcane workers.
The Center for Public Integrity recently reported that The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists’ analysis of the latest World Health Organization data found that in Central America nearly 3,000 men die each year from kidney failure.
In the United States, while hypertension and diabetes are the primary causes of CKD, the condition is usually manageable. However, that is not the case in Central America where those afflicted with the disease are seldom found to have either hypertension or diabetes and the rates of mortality are extremely high.
In the last 20 years, the number of men dying from CKD has increased fivefold in El Salvador and Nicaragua. Today, in those countries, more men die of kidney disease than from HIV/AIDS, leukemia and diabetes combined.
While the cause of the disease in the manual laborers is still not known, some scientists suspect that dehydration and heat exhaustion are the culprits. Workers spend long hours in the scorching sun doing exhausting physical work and are prone to severe dehydration which can trigger kidney problems.
Others suspect that the workers are being exposed to an unknown toxin that is causing the disease.
Currently, CKD is overwhelming the medical resources of many of the rural communities in which sugar cane is both the main industry and main source of employment.
25 percent of the raw sugar imported by the United States comes from Central America.