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For almost 2 decades, large areas of Central America have been impacted by an under-recognised epidemic of chronic kidney disease (CKD) of unknown causes whose victims are disproportionately young men of working age.1–5 Although exact figures are unavailable, based on estimates from our group, the death toll has likely reached at least 20 000. El Salvador, for example, has the highest overall mortality from kidney disease in the world (with Nicaragua and Honduras also included in the 10 highest countries), and CKD is the second leading cause of mortality among men of working age in the country.4 ,6 Furthermore, similar excesses of CKD of unknown cause have been reported in Sri Lanka,7 India8 and Egypt,9 where many of the epidemiological characteristics appear to be similar to the epidemic in Central America.
Despite its scientific and public health importance and its potential global reach, we have found that most health researchers and public health practitioners are unaware of this epidemic. Our goal in this editorial is to provide a brief overview of the epidemiological, aetiological and public health dimensions of the epidemic. We are part of a multidisciplinary and multinational team of researchers whose involvement began in 2009 when we were selected to conduct research to search for the cause(s) of excess CKD by the participants of a mediation process managed by the Compliance Advisor/Ombudsman Office, an independent recourse mechanism for the World Bank10 aimed at responding to complaints from project-affected communities with the goal of providing a mechanism for representatives of the communities to sit at the table with recipients of World Bank private sector loans and address issues raised in the complaints. The participants included a sugar cane company in Nicaragua and a group of more than 2000 sick ex-workers and their families. During …