El Salvador’s sugarcane workers and their silent killer

A small organisation is tackling a deadly epidemic of chronic disease among El Salvador’s sugarcane workers.

In El Salvador, a mysterious epidemic has been killing thousands of young sugarcane workers and devastating the country’s most impoverished communities.

The epidemic is responsible for more deaths inside the sugarcane-producing community than leukaemia, diabetes and Aids combined.

For years, the deaths have been blamed on the workers’ unhealthy lifestyles, chemical fertilisers and even bacterial infections.

But there is growing consensus among medical professionals that the real reason may be far simpler – the extreme work conditions.

Rising temperatures, hard labour and dehydration all contribute to a decline in kidney function. Over time, the accumulated effect becomes chronic, leaving individuals at the mercy of chronic kidney disease.

In an effort to curb this trend, La Isla Foundation, a small research NGO, has introduced simple measures to help sugarcane cutters to cope with the physical toll they endure.

Join Elizabeth Healey in El Salvador to visit remote sugarcane fields and see if the intervention could finally bring an end to this deadly epidemic.