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Under Cane

In Nicaragua, the average life span of men who harvest sugarcane is 49 years. At the root of these early deaths is an epidemic known as Chronic Kidney Disease of non-traditional causes (CKDnt). In the town of Chichigalpa, often called the “Island of Widows,” one out of every 3 men, mostly cane workers, is in end-stage renal failure from a disease that is both a public health crisis and a social injustice. In Central America alone, more than 10,000 sugarcane workers have become sick or have died from this illness in the past twenty years.

In Nicaragua, the average life span of men who harvest sugarcane is 49 years. At the root of these early deaths is an epidemic known as Chronic Kidney Disease of non-traditional causes (CKDnt). In the town of Chichigalpa, often called the “Island of Widows,” one out of every 3 men, mostly cane workers, is in end-stage renal failure from a disease that is both a public health crisis and a social injustice. In Central America alone, more than 10,000 sugarcane workers have become sick or have died from this illness in the past twenty years.

The Nicaraguan government and the local industry-dominating sugar company mutes this issue by intimidating workers and advocates alike. Research on the subject of CKDnt has indicated that repeated dehydration, severe heat, and environmental toxins might play a huge part in the rising death toll among sugarcane workers. Not only because multiple countries like southern Mexico, Ecuador, Sri Lanka, India and other tropical or subtropical countries, are battling CKDnt, is this disease of global concern. After all, nearly everyone on earth consumes sugar in some form, and the United States alone imports a large portion of Nicaragua’s sugar exports.

La Isla Foundation is a public health and policy NGO working at the intersection of public health and human rights to address a fatal epidemic of chronic kidney disease (CKD) among sugarcane workers in Latin America.

Pan American Health Organization is the world’s oldest international public health agency. It provides technical cooperation and mobilizes partnerships to improve health and quality of life in the countries of the Americas.

Solidaridad is an international civil society organization with more than 45 years of global experience in facilitating the development of socially responsible, ecologically sound, and profitable supply chains. Solidaridad works across 12 supply chains and operates through 10 regional offices on 5 continents.