Mysterious kidney disease plagues Central America

Story highlights

  • CKDu is a complex health problem with unknown origins
  • The disease is especially prevalent among sugarcane workers
  • Kidney dialysis and transplants are often too expensive for employees
  • Some research on the disease is funded by the sugarcane industry, causing controversy
Juan Salgado was 16 when he started cutting sugarcane, in a town near the Pacific coast of Nicaragua in 1966.
His symptoms began about 35 years later: Fever. Headaches. Poor appetite. Feelings of faintness. For no obvious reason, his kidneys were severely damaged, to the point that doctors said he couldn't do agricultural work anymore. Many of his friends had it worse.
"I know, many, many workers who were colleagues of mine, who have already died, and I know also many who are not capable of working anymore because of the disease," said Salgado, now 65, who worked near the town of Chichigalpa, Nicaragua.
The disease is known by scientists as "chronic kidney