In recent times in El Salvador, there has been an abnormal rise in the number of deaths from kidney disease and its blame is on the change of climate.
Outside the town of Tierra Blanca at around 10 in the morning, the mercury is already close to 31 degrees.
At the sugarcane fields, the workers arrive. Both men & women be it young or old come wearing thick jeans with long-sleeved shirts & face scarves to protect their face from the scorching heat of the sun.
They have to move fast between rows of cane, bending, reaching, clipping & trimming them in preparation for harvesting the crop in the coming weeks.
In the area of slight shade, old Pepsi & Fanta bottles full of water swing from tree branches.
People’s life stories.
As a matter of fact, these workers do not stop until their shift gets over in the noon and keep going without any rest.
- Amongst these workers is the 25 year old Jesus Linares. He explained his dreams to be a language teacher but has no options as he has to support his family just like the others. He says all about his dreams in English. At young age of 8, he learned hiding in the towering canes whenever the police would come on rounds to check if any under-aged children forced to work. In the evenings, he likes to listen to English audio programs or maybe read a language book. He is unable to do so as he is very tired. The thought that something is wrong with his health, he decides to visit the Tierra Blanca clinic. His blood tests revealed that Linares was in the early stages of chronic kidney disease.
- We have another similar story in the Bajo Lempa region where close to 25% of its population have chronic kidney disease and this is a major cause of hospital deaths in El Salvador. This disease is commonly caused by hypertension & diabetes, but surprisingly, the death of the people had no such problems.
- In Tierra Blanca, Juan Pablo Paniagua aged 60, says his story as he was a kid working in a corn field and as a fisherman also but only now he feels the strange change in his body.
- No pain is there but it is like “I am decaying slowly”. He has taken the dialysis 3 times a week for 2 ½ years. The treatment costs $120 for a single session which he now cannot afford.
They say that it is mostly in men & arises in hot and humid conditions. People like farmers, fishermen and workers at construction sites are a few that work in such conditions.
Dehydration causes acute kidney disease that can be easily reversed by drinking water. People go to hospitals, but when they are unable to get any treatment for this, return home to die.
At the Rosales National Hospital in San Salvador, the story is the same.
In fact, they were absolutely fine 3 months ago and did not need to visit a doctor.
The people felt scared when they could not go to work because of their illness.
The Salvadoran culture is to work hard and has continued since 1980’s till date.
A kidney specialist
García-Trabanino explains that the disease is a silent one.
Moreover, once we feel we are seriously ill, prepare our self for treatment it is too late.
The numbers after a few months reached 200. In recent times, the number has elevated to close to 1000 cases.
The hospital has almost 30 new patients arriving in a month. The hospital only has resources for half of them.
How kidney disease eats into you
To explain, Chronic kidney disease destroys the kidney tissue until it can no longer filter waste from the blood.
This disease damages the glomeruli (the tiny units that clean the blood), the new form destroys the renal tubules, where urine is made & transported & the interstitium, which is around the other structures in the kidneys & helps maintain the right balance of fluid.
They teamed up with Emmanuel Jarquin (an occupational health & safety consultant) & Emergency Social Fund for Health in Tierra Blanca.
Researchers moved around the different areas.
They decided to make comparison between the workers working 500 meters above sea level and in lowland areas.
The results were astonishing. After taking the urine samples, they found that all across Central America & southern Mexico were suffering from the disease and most of them were in the first stage luckily but yet unaware of the situation.
Research on mice
1 group of mice put in hot sun for long hours with water given only in evenings.
2nd group of mice given the chance of drinking unlimited water.
Results and cause
As a result, mice given limited water had developed the disease.
The researcher went on to check the weather for that day & noticed that it was the hottest day of the year & a huge heat wave had struck.
Climate change was the cause of this development of disease.
Dehydration is the main cause as it drains all the salt and water from our body.
Our kidneys are the first in line to be attacked by the disease as it is the role of kidney to keep electrolytes within the normal range & blood volume stable.
The people taught to be fighters and continue to do that.
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