For about a decade, an enigmatic kidney disease epidemic has been sweeping across the world’s southern hemisphere. While the typical kidney disease patient in the northern hemisphere is older, most of the victims in the current epidemic south of the equator are young males who work outdoors, usually in agriculture. Thousands of Central American young men who work on the sugar cane plantations have died of failing kidneys. In India and Sri Lanka, the crop is rice, but the affliction and the consequences are still the same.
Although the “mystery kidney disease” has attracted plenty of medical attention for about two decades, the definitive cause remains unknown. In fact, the disease is identified as “chronic kidney disease of unknown etiology” (CKDu) to distinguish it from the “conventional” chronic kidney disease (CKD) that afflicts millions of older patients around the world. Dehydration and exposure to pesticides are the suspected causes of CKDu, so it should be relatively simple to implement a preventive strategy. However, the response of governments and the world at large has been woefully inadequate as thousands of vital young lives continue to be lost.
WHAT IS GLYPHOSATE?
Although the precise cause of CKDu has not been confirmed, a word that is repeated over and over in CKDu research and medical papers is the pesticide name “glyphosate.” Marketed most notably by the Monsanto Corporation under the brand name “Roundup,” glyphosate has been identified as a likely cause of CKDu. The Sri Lankan government has tried to ban Roundup, but even that move has been stalled by political opposition. If farmers in Sri Lanka discontinue their use of Roundup, it would decrease their rice yield and probably destroy their rice farming operations. A ban on glyphosate was scheduled to begin in El Salvador in 2015, but the product remains legal and available in more than one hundred nations.
Meanwhile, activist groups are fighting Monsanto by working other angles. Fairfood International and the Central American Institute for Social Studies (ICADS), for example, have both publicly “called out” the Bacardi Corporation for purchasing sugar from Central American plantations where workers have been struck with CKDu, although The Bacardi Corporation denies this claim.
WHY IS CKDu AN EPIDEMIC?
Fighting CKDu is complicated by the staggering poverty of the victims and the virtually insurmountable expense of the treatment. In an interview with The Center for Public Integrity, one Nicaraguan laborer – a sugar cane laborer since the age of 14 who lost his father to CKDu and was himself diagnosed with the condition at age 17 – explained his helplessness. “We work there because the company is the only option we have.”
In Andhra Pradesh in India, the closest hospital with dialysis facilities is 125 miles away, and in the words of a village leader, the villagers “cannot go to that place because of lack of money, so they are staying here and dying here.” According to The Center for Public Integrity, as many as 40,000 Sri Lankan rice farmers and up to 37 percent of the population in villages in Uddanam District, Andhra Pradesh, are slowly and painfully dying from CKDu.
CKDu is already a leading cause of death in Central American countries such as El Salvador and Nicaragua. The disease has overtaken the number of deaths in those nations caused by HIV and diabetes combined. Already, CKDu affects 12 to 18 percent of the general population and 14 to 26 percent of the males in El Salvador and Nicaragua. Rates of kidney disease among younger men in these nations are fifteen times above the rates in the United States. It is only a matter of time before the CKDu crisis reaches similar levels in India and Sri Lanka, where heavy glyphosate spraying in the rice fields has contaminated the drinking water in adjacent villages.
Glyphosate was first synthesized in 1950, and it was discovered to be an herbicide by Monsanto chemist John E. Franz in 1970. Monsanto brought glyphosate to market in 1974 under the trade name Roundup. Its qualities as a pesticide are praised by scientists concerned with food production. Australian biologist Stephen B. Powles has written that “glyphosate is a one in a 100-year discovery that is as important for reliable global food production as penicillin is for battling disease,” and U.S. Department of Agriculture biologist Stephen O. Duke has described glyphosate as a “virtually ideal” herbicide.
WHAT DANGERS DO U.S. KIDNEY PATIENTS FACE?
While the direct link between glyphosate and CKDu in India, Sri Lanka, and Central America remains elusive, we know plenty about the kidney diseases that are common in the United States, and here the big threat to kidney disease victims is not a lack of knowledge – it’s medical malpractice. A recent study produced by the Institute of Medicine and published by the National Academy of Sciences says that five percent of medical patients in the United States – about twelve million adults – are misdiagnosed every year.
If you are a kidney disease patient in the U.S. and your kidney disease was originally misdiagnosed; if you were given the wrong medication or subjected to inappropriate treatment; or if you’ve been the victim of a wrongful or unneeded surgical procedure, you may have grounds for a medical malpractice claim and should consult at once with an experienced medical malpractice attorney.
With early and accurate diagnosis, most kidney disease patients can be treated, and for many, the disease can be managed with medication without significantly changing one’s lifestyle. However, if the results of the diagnostic tests are misread or unrecognized, specialists won’t be consulted, treatment won’t be ordered, and a patient’s condition can rapidly deteriorate, which constitutes medical malpractice. If you are a victim or if you believe that you are a victim of medical malpractice related to kidney disease, make the call at once to an experienced medical malpractice attorney.
Even here in the United States, in far too many cases, early diagnosis and proper treatment of kidney disease does not happen, and patients unnecessarily suffer. If you or someone you love has been misdiagnosed, improperly treated, or injured as a consequence of medical malpractice related to kidney disease, discuss your legal rights and options at once with an experienced medical malpractice attorney.