Mysterious Kidney Disease In Farm Workers Has A Name “Mesoamerican Nephropathy” & How To Prevent It!


Research in the past has shown that there is an illness known as ‘Mesoamerican Nephropathy,’ also known as Chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown Origin (CKDu). More recent research has shown that whenever a workforce has access to shade, rest and water, the chances of CKDu and kidney injury is lower and the pain is less intensive.

New risk factors have been identified for mysterious kidney illness by the researchers from the Center for Health, Work & Environment at the Colorado School of Public Health (ColoradoSPH) on the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. This illness affects tens of thousands of people who work on farms. They published their discoveries in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

ColoradoSPH researchers partnered with Pantaleon, one of the biggest sugar producers in all of South America to examine its sugarcane cutters in Guatemala over a period of 6 harvest seasons. About 33% of the workers exhibited a decline in kidney function over this period while the others didn’t have any significant change in their kidney function. The researchers ascertained that other factors such as smoking and low kidney function before they were employed in their current positions were also associated with the decline observed. They could not establish anything linking home use of pesticide, sugary drink consumption, quantity of water consumed and other health conditions.

In accordance with the World Health Organization’s (WHO) worker protection guidelines for rest and hydration, Pantaleon already offers all its workers enough rest, water, shade and electrolyte solution just like the ones used in sports. From this study, we can say that it isn’t enough to depend on these preventative measures to protect workers from kidney injuries.

People who engage in heavy labor in hot climates need a lot of rest, water and shade and it is crucial that employers make them available for their employees. Dr. Jaime butler-Dawson who was the lead author of the study and researcher at the Center for Health Works and Environment noted that rest, hydration and shade isn’t enough to stop the global epidemic of kidney disease. She went on to note that more efficient methods are now available to help keep workers safe and healthy.

She and her team have continued to do further research with the aim of understanding the factors that result in the decline of proper kidney function, for instance, workers who stay close to the sugarcane field are more susceptible to kidney complications at the end of the harvest season. They have also looked further into the percentage of the population that was able to maintain their health. Her team is working with researchers from the Colorado School of Public Health’s Center for Global health to create and test different techniques that can improve the health of agricultural workers in the region.

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