Save Workers from Kidney Disease Epidemic


Target: Sonia Castro Gonzales, Minister of Health in Nicaragua

Goal: Stop the epidemic of kidney disease among sugar cane workers in Nicaragua.

Exploited sugar cane workers are dying from an epidemic of kidney disease. In a town called Chichigalpa in northwest Nicaragua, nearly half of the adult males out of a population of 500,000 suffer from chronic kidney failure. These high rates are likely tied to their work cutting sugar cane at the San Antonio Sugar Mill. However, the exact causes remain unclear and range from dehydration and heat stress, agrochemicals used to grow the sugarcane, antibiotics, and of course genetics, according to a recent article in National Geographic.

Sugar cane companies often blame their workers for being sick. Facing intimidation, many workers do not dare speak out against unfair labor conditions out of fear for their job. Companies often avoid media attention, which in turn forces workers into silence. Instead, many young workers, once they get sick, stop working and try to take care of themselves on their own. They might undergo kidney dialysis, but only if they can afford the treatment. Once they go on home dialysis, though, they are likely to die within six to twelve months.

All hope is not lost, however. Filmmaker and photographer Ed Kashi has been commissioned by the Nicaragua-based NGO La Isla Foundation to document the plight of these workers with a short film, which will hopefully raise funds for a longer documentary to bring vital media attention to this issue of both public health and human rights. Furthermore, the La Isla Foundation and international civil society organization Solidaridad have created a three-year pilot program in El Salvador focusing on adequate water, rest, and shade. Though simple, it represents a key step in recognizing these workers’ rights to have their basic needs met.

By signing the petition below, you can help ensure these sick workers get the treatment and care they desperately need.


Dear Ms. Gonzales,

I am writing in regards to the high rates of chronic kidney failure among sugar cane workers in Nicaragua. Adult males are hardest hit by the disease. Chichigalpa to the northwest, for example, has half of its adult male population suffering from chronic kidney failure. Indeed, the disease is known to primarily male agricultural workers around the world.

I urge you to make these workers’ health and safety a priority. It is my sincere hope that you mandate better conditions for sugar cane workers and agricultural workers more broadly. As sugar mill companies continue to blame workers for being sick, and workers and family members keep quiet out of fear of losing their jobs, you can show them that their well-being does matter.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: joão henrique rosa via Wikimedia Commons

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