In Nicaragua, the average lifespan of men who harvest sugarcane is 49 years. At the root of these early deaths is an epidemic known as Chronic Kidney Disease of undetermined causes (CKDu). In the town of Chichigalpa, often called the “Island of Widows,” 1-in-3 men, mostly cane workers, have end-stage renal failure from this fatal occupational disease that is both a public health crisis and a social injustice. In Central America alone, over 20,000 sugarcane workers have died from CKDu in the past ten years.
Research on the subject of CKDu indicates that repeated dehydration, severe heat, and environmental toxins might play a huge part in the rising death toll among sugarcane workers. These clues need further investigation and increased media coverage to find solutions to this critical problem that exists in Nicaragua, elsewhere in Central America, and globally. From southern Mexico to Ecuador, Sri Lanka, India and other tropical/subtropical countries, battling CKDu is of global concern.
View still images that are part of this ongoing project here.
The film was originally published on National Geographic News on January 29, 2015.