Between 8 and 10 percent of adults have some form of kidney damage and, every year, millions die prematurely from the complications of chronic kidney disease. The increase of diabetes and hypertension as well as genetic traits are known to be the leading causes of chronic kidney disease, making certain communities and populations more vulnerable.

A strange epidemic

An unknown form of chronic kidney disease is affecting men, mainly working within the harsh and blistering conditions of agricultural fields. In Nicaragua and Costa Rica alone, it has caused the premature death of at least 20,000 men in affected areas. Patients seem to develop an impaired kidney function without diabetes, hypertension or other traditional symptoms of chronic kidney disease.

In Sri Lanka and parts of India, it has become a serious public health concern. Particularly, in Sri Lanka, the problem is reaching epidemic proportions with a staggering incidence of 15.1 to 22.9 percent people affected in certain districts.

These apparently unrelated populations show symptoms of the same disease, appearing at quite an advanced stage and seemingly caused by exposure to agrochemicals, heavy metals, heat shock and dehydration. It is disproportionally affecting poor male field workers in hot climates, between 17 to 70 years old, but most commonly aged between 30 and 60.

“Working together, we can address regional problems, and see if the solutions make sense and can be applied globally.”

Finding a global solution

Doctors and researchers from the fields of environmental studies, toxicology and social sciences are beginning to work together internationally to leverage and coordinate existing efforts in the hope of improving the understanding and outcomes for patients suffering from this mysterious form of kidney disease.

It is key to develop an unbiased and strategic research agenda to improve the understanding of the causes of this disease, which has similarities in all these different parts of the world.

The international health community must strive to find common approaches and work as one voice in the fight against chronic kidney disease of unknown origin. Working together, we can address regional problems, and see if the solutions make sense and can be applied globally.