Sri Lanka’s new health minister announced that the fight against a mysterious kidney desease spreading in the area of the Cultural Triangle top priority under the new government. The kidney disease mainly effects farmers from the Anuradhapura district and surrounding districts. 15 percent of adults in the three most effects districts suffer from this kidney disease. It often strikes several members within the same family. Some villages reported as many as 10 deaths a month. During the last 20 years, about 400,000 people have suffered from this kidney disease and 20,000 were killed by it. The number of casualties could be much higher, since many people die at home without being registered as patients suffering from this mysterious disease. As it spreads, locals are becoming increasingly fearful. They tend to panic, as soon they start suffering from health problems of any kind.
Diseased people usually feel weak and tired in the beginning and lose appetite and suffer from a shortness of breath. And their limbs are swollen. The disease then becomes chronic. In the final phase, patients are gradually dying off. Like a toxin, this disease destroys the tissue and causes the kidneys to shrink. Sufferers become unable to pass liquids on their own. In order to avoid that extremities retain too much water, they should not drink more than one litre per day.
Sri Lanka is lacking in the dialysis capacities required to treat such high numbers of patients. Sri Lanka has just 183 dialysis machines, forcing most sufferers to receive less than the three recommended weekly treatments. There is no national transplant program using cadaver kidneys, patients completely rely on relatives or other living donors.
Most victims work in wet rice cultivation (paddy fields) or grow vegetables. More women are affected, but the course of this kidney disease is more severe in man over 40 years.
The causes of the kidney disease a mystery, though a lot of research testing the quality of food, water and air has already been done, also considering urine and tissue samples, but without conclusive results. Suspects are vegetables fertilizers and other agrochemicals and water supply. For example, the weed killer glyphosate was blames. It could form a bond with heavy metals, transporting higher amounts of them to the kidneys. But the producer Monsanto denied the allegations. A report published by the World Health Organisation some years ago could not find a clear reason for the disease, either, but it pointed to cadmium or arsenic as possible poisons. Tobacco and specific vegetables such as lotus root were found to contain elevated levels of cadmium and lead. Heavy metals could be leaching into the soil and groundwater from pesticides and fertilizers. But water and soil samples in Sri Lanka are said to be regularly tested and results are within permitted limits, which are stricter than those in other developing countries. However, Sri Lanka is among the world’s top fertilizer-using countries. Using excessive amounts of pesticides is quite common in Sri Lanka. Most farmers do not wear protective gear.
Chronic Kidney diseases can usually be put down to diabetes or high blood pressure, both health risks are widespread among farmers in the effected area, too. But this may have a common cause and, even without that, does not explain the extraordinary high numbers in this region.
Farmers in America, India and Egypt also have been facing similar problemns. Agrochemicals are widely blamed in those areas, too.
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