Central America

Popular Protest and CKD in Nicaragua

"Burning Sugar Cane" by think4photop at freedigitalphotos.net
“Burning Sugar Cane” by think4photop at freedigitalphotos.net

I’ve written twice before on this blog about an emerging disease in Central America called Chronic Kidney Disease. In my original post I described how in some communities in the region between a quarter and seventy percent of men may suffer from the disorder, which is a truly staggering number. In a subsequent post, I argued that something mysterious was happening in Central America, because the disease appears to be something new. While some people argue that the illness takes place because of pesticide exposure or dehydration, this argument seems problematic to me. If this is true, why do we not see a similar illness in the Caribbean or the Atlantic coast of Brazil? That is why in this post I suggested changing the name of the disorder to EKD, so as to reflect the disease’s novelty. The fact that the illness focuses on the Pacific Coast of Central America, mainly affects men, but also seems to impact workers outside the sugar cane industry, all seems significant to me. …

Nicaragua Dreams of a New Canal

Photo of the Panama Canal at Night by David Castillo
Photo of the Panama Canal at Night by David Castillo

In an earlier post, I talked about the United States’ declining influence in the Americas. I think that nothing may symbolize this as much as Nicaragua’s vote this week to grant a Chinese company a 50 year concession to build a canal across this country. The idea of a canal across Nicaragua dates back at least to the early nineteenth century. As David McCullough described in his magnificent book, The Path Between the Seas, Nicaragua was favored because it was closer to the United States, and Lake Nicaragua seemed to make the task of building the canal easier. After the Civil War, U.S. President Grant sent five expeditions to Central America to explore a route for a canal, most of which went do Nicaragua. But since it was the French who began the project -reflecting Europe’s influence in the hemisphere- proximity to the U.S. did not shape their choice, and they began work on the Panamanian isthmus. Although the project was headed by the French hero de Lesseps, the man who had built the Suez canal, his decision to build a sea level canal likely doomed the project from the start.   …

Mystery Kidney Ailment in Central America: EKD

"Panama Cathedral" by David Castillo Dominici at freedigitalphotos.net
“Panama Cathedral” by David Castillo Dominici at freedigitalphotos.net

Regular readers of this blog have probably noticed the attention with which I am following the emergence of a new disease in Central America, called CKD or Chronic Kidney Disease. The disease has caused devastation in some rural communities, particularly in both Nicaragua and El Salvador. What is distinct is that it particularly hits men, not women, especially those employed in the sugar cane industry. But the evidence for this is somewhat contradictory, as men employed in other physically demanding jobs also seem to be falling ill with the condition. …

Mystery Epidemic In Central America: CKD

Image of Sugar Cane field from freedigitalphotos.net

In an earlier post, I talked about some mystery diseases globally. None, however, may have affected as many people as a strange kidney disease impacting sugar cane workers in Central America. As a recent article states, the suffering in some communities in the region has been immense: “In the past 10 years, it’s believed that hundreds, if not thousands, of residents of Chichigalpa — mostly male sugarcane workers — have died from chronic kidney disease, or CKD. That in a city of nearly 60,000, roughly the size of Ames, Iowa.” One study of a farming community in El Salvador found that one quarter of men were suffering from signs of CKD. In another community, La Isla, Nicaragua, allegedly seventy percent of men have the disease.

At this point people are blaming a host of different factors for the disease: pesticides, dehydration and arsenic. Unsurprisingly, the sugar industry denies that its actions could be responsible in any way for the illness. One spokesperson told Kerry Sanders and Lisa Riordan Seville at NBC News that the root of the problem might be alcohol or volcanoes: …

Three Mystery Epidemics

The World Health Organization is an under-appreciated institution, which often takes on critical tasks. For example, in 2011 it brokered an agreement to end a controversy about viral sample sharing particularly related to avian influenza. This agreement will greatly help with the development of pre-pandemic vaccines, but such achievements attract little press coverage. The WHO receives much more press when it acts as the world’s medical sleuth. When invited, it quickly arrives on the scene wherever a new disease is emerging. At the moment there are no fewer than three new diseases that merit the WHO’s attention. Although they may not each be the next SARS, they all have worrisome aspects.

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