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By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

2/12/2014 (1 year ago)

Catholic Online (

Chronic kidney disease kills thousands, but nobody knows why.

A terrible disease with an unknown cause is stalking the sugarcane workers of Latin America. Known as chronic kidney disease, it kills people daily, and thousands have died in just the past few years. Major sugar producers in the region appear to have little interest in doing anything about it.

Burned for profits: Workers are dying, but those who employ them seem not to care.

Burned for profits: Workers are dying, but those who employ them seem not to care.


By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Catholic Online (

2/12/2014 (1 year ago)

Published in Americas

Keywords: sugar cane, workers, chronic kidney disease, ckd, mystery, reason, profits

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - A disease known as chronic kidney disease (CKD) is killing cane workers in Central America. The disease is also prominent in Sri Lanka and India. Although CKD has always been around, it seems to be worsening in these areas, over the past 20 years.

In parts of Nicaragua and El Salvador, the disease is a way of life, and workers on the cane plantations understand that their days are numbered. One community in Nicaragua has been renamed from "La Isla" to "La Isla de las Viudas" or, the Island of the Widows because so many men from the community have died from CKD.

Let us pray for the workers of the world who deliver so much bounty to us. May they prosper in safety.

A report in The Verge has detailed the severity of the situation and provided several images which you can see here.

A cane worker who may now be dead. This worker was in the end stages of kidney failure when his imag

A cane worker who may now be dead. This worker was in the end stages of kidney failure when his image was captured by photographer Ed Kashi.

The cause of the CKD outbreak is unknown, however it seems to be related to sugar cane production in Nicaragua and El Salvador. Many people in these areas are seriously impoverished and they take the work despite the danger because they have virtually no other choice. It is a foregone conclusion that many men who work in the cane fields will die sooner.

Many possible causes have been suggested, such as chronic dehydration of the workers. However, ample water has been provided by the farms that employ them, and dehydration has always been a risk factor in the cane fields since the colonization of the region 500 years ago. Only in the last two decades has CKD emerged as a leading killer.

Other suggestions point to fertilizers and pesticides which contain chemicals that can be harmful in high doses. While workers only ever come into contact with trace quantities of these chemicals, and those quantities are well below safety guidelines, it is possible that the constant exposure could make up for the low-grade dosages and cause CKD.

However, these theories are only speculation. The causes could have more to do with lifestyle. People in the region appear to have a higher risk of diabetes, and workers often consume greater quantities of sugar than others, because chewing on bits of cane while working can be refreshing.

However, the corporate giants that benefit the most from the region's cane production appear entirely disinterested in addressing the problem. Protests have failed to prompt much response from the corporate entities in the region and farmers ultimately have no choice if they want to work.

The funeral industry is booming, however, a grim fringe benefit of a massive human tragedy.

The casket business is booming as funerals happen daily. Image: Ed Kashi

The casket business is booming as funerals happen daily. Image: Ed Kashi

Those dying in Central America are not the elderly either. According to The Verge, an increasing number of young, otherwise healthy people are falling victim to the disease. The disease kills silently, often reducing a person's kidney function below 10 percent before symptoms appear.

Locals can purchase home dialysis machines, but sanitation and quality remain an issue. Eventually, everyone with the disease dies of it, dialysis or not.

The world benefits tremendously from the labor of these people. Just because they may live thousands of miles away from the end use of their products, or because they are poor, doesn't mean their lives have any less value to us. The world, which benefits from their labor has a sacred obligation to ensure their health. We must demand that sugar suppliers permit studies of their crops and practices, and that healthcare is provided for the people whose literal sacrifice delivers to them so much in profits.

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Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for October 2015
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