Nicaraguan CKDu Epidemic

  1. La Isla is a small community located on the outskirts of Chichigalpa, Nicaragua in the Central America lowlands. Its sole economy is the sugar cane industry which relies on young men desperate to provide for their families ensuring an endless supply of labor. The wage they can earn cutting sugar cane makes the work worth it despite the fact that some 70% of men working in the industry develop Chronic Kidney Disease of unknown origin (CKDu). Research done by both the University of Boston as well as the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua, Leon (UNAN) has so far not yielded answers as to the cause of the disease. Meanwhile roughly 250 men are dying every year leaving their community to take on the nickname "la Isla de Viudas," "the isle of widows." The dying men range in age from 18 to 40s+ which inherently makes them the breadwinners for their families. Without their earning power the widows of the community are left to try to make ends meet for their children in numbing poverty while their sons grow up destined to swing their machetes and set fire to the ground, in the end to produce consumer grade sugar at a low price. The people of La Isla deserve dignity, can you help?

    Learn more about CKDu and the global fight against it at

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  2. The rainy season brings a halt to the cutting season between May and November, but veteran sugarcane cutters find work in other jobs as sugarcane production never rests. They work in "cleaning," or weeding the cane fields, spraying chemical herbicides and pesticides, working security of fields, warehouses and factories, and maintaining irrigation infrastructure, preparing for the next cutting season, which will begin when the rains subside and the sun settles back into its dominance for another six months. This rainy season saw a thorough campaign of health exams in the affected community of Guanacastal de Sur, which includes La Isla, carried out by La Isla Foundation and CISTA (Center for Investigation in Health, Work and Environment) officials with medical students from Mt. Sinai School of Medicine (NYC) and UNAN-Leon. Study fatigue can set in among community members who, year after year, participate in medical exams while family members and friends perish of the very disease being studied. This round of exams however saw a much more upbeat response by the community as a year of community work and education on the health studies built stronger relationships between members of the affected communities and the researchers. The majority of that community work was carried out by young people from Nicaragua, the U.S. and Europe working tirelessly for months carrying out surveys, holding educational seminars, and sharing conversation over meals with people in the communities. All this success however is matched by the fact that over 60% of men in these communities have CKD and continuing studies only confirm that rate with each new generation taking to the fields. LIF and CISTA have developed a protocol for a causality study to test the interaction of sugar, specifically fructose, with chronic dehydration, that they plan on implementing in a study this November with the beginning of the cutting season. The rain will cease, the cane will burn, and the season will begin. Will this be the year that we find the cause? Be part of the solution.

    Learn more at -

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  3. With the world's eye on Chichigalpa, Nicaragua after a round of media visits over the course of 2012, the complicated circumstances surrounding the basics of the CKDu issue do not fit easily into a nightly news program. OFF AIR explores a deeper and darker reality of intimidation that those affected by the disease face every day.

    Intimidation of communities affected by the CKDu epidemic from Nicaraguan Sugar Estates Limited (NSEL), owners of Ingenio San Antonio (ISA) is affecting medical research in the affected communities. Their brand of intimidation involves threatening workers and surviving widows, who earn between 100-250 US dollars a month, with losing their employment and/or food and medical stipends they were given.

    These stipends were given via an International Finance Corporation (IFC) arbitration process that was supposed to resolve a complaint between a community organization, ASOCHIVIDA, and NSEL, which was the recipient of a multimillion-dollar loan from the IFC.

    What has happened instead is that the community organization, ASOCHIVIDA, has been pressured by the sugarcane company into intimidating their own members by using the stipends as leverage over their membership. For talking to the press or working with independent researchers, like La Isla Foundation, families desperate for whatever help they can get have had their food stipends, jobs, and medical supplies threatened or taken away.

    This has damaged our research efforts as community members have become too scared to participate in the studies that will help us identify the cause. Tierra Unida Films and LIF are explaining the complicated situation and asking the company to collaborate instead of prevent meaningful, independently funded and peer-reviewed research. Tragically, one of the men in the video has already passed away, a stark reminder of the urgent need to find the cause.

    NSEL has also pressured other sugar producers in Nicaragua not to collaborate with independent researchers via their powerful lobby in the Nicaraguan Sugar Producers Association. This unfortunate turn of events occurs as La Isla Foundation and its research partners have a study protocol ready and funded that may find the cause of the disease. We only require the collaboration of a sugarcane company in Nicaragua to carry out research that is likely to identify a principal cause of the epidemic. This research must coincide with the beginning of the cane harvest in two weeks and will likely need to be suspended until next year because of NSEL’s actions.

    Write NSEL ( to tell them that you think they should collaborate with LIF and our research partners. That research should be delayed and thousands of more men put at risk due to special interests is unconscionable.

    Learn more about the CKDu issue at and be part of the solution.

    Learn more about Tierra Unida Films and our work on this issue at

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  4. On March 18, 2013 over one hundred men and women affected by an epidemic of chronic kidney disease of unknown cause (CKDu) were holding a peaceful protest in Chichigalpa Nicaragua. By blockading traffic on the Leon-Chinandega branch of the Pan-American Highway they hoped they could draw attention to those suffering with the disease and the thousands who have died in the past decade. But what had been an entire day of peaceful protest turned violent in an instant, a reflection of the tensions that exist in sugarcane communities affected by the epidemic. This short film breaks down the "anatomy of a riot" as it follows a young woman who lost her sugarcane cutting brother to CKDu and their community that, lacking a voice or assistance, decided to organize and protest and was eventually violently repressed. The CKDu epidemic itself is the result of a structural framework that has resulted in the deaths and impoverishment of thousands of people in the Central American lowlands. This video is also an introduction to a full report on the human rights abuses committed by local police against the population of Chichigalpa.

    View the full report here:

    See a blog post on the days events here:

    La Isla Foundation will work with all parties willing to be part of the solution. What can you do? Contact La Isla Foundation to be part of the solution.

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  5. La Isla es una comunidad pequeña localizada fuera de Chichigalpa, Nicaragua en las tierras bajas centro americanas. Su único ecónomo es la industria de caña de azúcar cual depende en hombres jóvenes desesperados provenir para sus familias asegurando una suplía interminable de labor. El sueldo que se pueden ganar vale la pena a pesar del hecho que casi 70% de los hombres trabajando en la industria contraen Enfermedad Renal Crónica (CKD) debido a causas desconocidas. Investigaciones por la Universidad de Boston y por la Universidad Nacional Autónomo de Nicaragua, Leon (UNAN) todavía no han proporcionadas respuestas por la causa de la enfermedad. En el intervalo aproximadamente 250 hombres están muriendo cada año dejando su comunidad adquirir el apodo de “La Isla de Viudas.” Las edades de los muertos extienden desde 18 hasta 40+ años que significa inherentemente que ellos son los proveedores para sus familias. Sin sus capacidades de ganar, las viudas de la comunidad están dejadas a tratar provenir para sus hijos en pobreza entumecida mientras sus hijos se crían destinados a machetear y quemar al suelo, en fin para producir el bien de consumo de azúcar por un precio bajo. El pueblo de La Isla merece dignidad, podes ayudar?

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Nicaraguan CKDu Epidemic

Tom Laffay PRO

This channel is devoted to featuring multimedia documentaries on the Chronic Kidney Disease epidemic that is decimating populations of Central American sugarcane workers in order to reveal and understand the structural issues that have created this problem…

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This channel is devoted to featuring multimedia documentaries on the Chronic Kidney Disease epidemic that is decimating populations of Central American sugarcane workers in order to reveal and understand the structural issues that have created this problem and to work towards a solution. (All videos are available in English and Spanish)

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