PRI’s The World: Mysterious Kidney Disease Now Found in South Asia

I found this story particularly interesting, since I did a one-year fellowship with CDC-NIOSH on pesticide poisoning surveillance. The story examines a high incidence of kidney disease in Sri Lanka and discusses how farmers, medical professionals and government authorities have been dealing with it. The full story can be viewed here; a summary of the story, and a video, can be found below.


A form of chronic kidney disease (CKD), similar to one that has been killing sugarcane field workers in Central America, has now been observed in South Asia. The World‘s Rhitu Chatterjee reports from Sri Lanka, where thousands of rice farmers and their families are affected. Her story is part of a series, Mystery in the Fields, produced in collaboration with The Center for Public Integrity.

The afflicted show no signs of high blood pressure or diabetes – the most common causes of CKD elsewhere in the world – and yet their kidneys are failing. There is no known cure. Authorities are trying to find a cause, but their preliminary findings have not reached the people whose lives are threatened.

A new study by the World Health Organization and the Sri Lankan Ministry of Health suggests that Sri Lanka’s CKD sufferers may have been poisoned by chronic, low-level exposure to the heavy metals cadmium and arsenic. Researchers think the toxins may be coming from farm chemicals, such as pesticides and fertilizers. But while the study points to a possible cause, the study’s results have not been widely publicized.

Chatterjee speaks with rice farmers, doctors, government officials, and a representative from Sri Lanka’s farm chemicals industry. Her report examines the results of the WHO study, the secrecy that surrounds it, and the frustration of Sri Lankans who see little being done to prevent more people from falling ill.

The full report can be found here: http://bit.ly/Q9Gv1g

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