Via The New York Times, yet another report on chronic kidney disease: Haunted by the mystery deaths in Nicaragua’s brutal sugarcane fields. Excerpt and then a comment:
Two brothers stand in a dusty alley in the town of Chichigalpa in Nicaragua. They stare with suspicion at Australian photographer Josh Mcdonald, who has just captured their image – a picture that won a Wellcome Image award last week for its depiction of the impact of a medical condition that has been devastating the male population of central America.
The illness is described as “chronic kidney disease of undetermined cause” and it is responsible for 75% of deaths of young and middle-aged men in Nicaragua. Workers in the sugarcane industry are worst affected, and the disease has been destroying families and communities for 20 years. Yet the cause remains unknown.
In the case of Mcdonald’s picture, the two boys are known to have lost uncles and cousins to the disease, although their mother still works as a sugarcane cutter. However, the boys were reluctant to speak to the photographer – perhaps because they thought their contact with someone from the developed world might jeopardise their chances of working in the fields themselves.
“It was early in the morning and I had walked out the backyard of the house where I was staying and into a back alley,” said Mcdonald.
“I saw the two standing there. They had arrived to buy flour, which was handed over the fence to them. They were not keen on talking to me, as you can see from their expressions. I managed to capture just the two images, this one and one where the boy on the right is reaching up to grab the bag of flour being handed down over the fence.”
Mcdonald later found out – after speaking to neighbours – that the boys had recently lost their uncles and cousins. Neither was receiving an education, and it is likely they will end up working in the sugarcane industry.
Their prospects are therefore grim. At least 20,000 people – most of them young agricultural workers – have died from chronic kidney disease in Nicaragua since it first came to the notice of doctors in the late 1990s.
I first posted on this subject in December, 2011. It's not just a problem in Nicaragua.