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Costa Rican government responds to cane-cutter investigation

Sugarcane workers board buses at dawn, to work for labour contractors at the Nicaraguan plantation Ingenio San Antonio. The buses return the workers home a full 12 hours later (photo: Kate Sheehy & Sasha Chavkin/ICIJ)

Recently on Dispatches we found out about a mysterious growth of chronic kidney disease in Central America.

Rick spoke with Sasha Chavkin, an investigative journalist who started looking into why so many young men who cut sugar cane in Central America have fallen ill, and why so many have died. 

And now, since Sasha's piece was published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the Costa Rican government has announced it's launched a study into the causes of chronic kidney disease in its sugarcane-producing northern region. And, one the country's biggest sugar producers has promised to overhaul its worker health and safety policies.

Sasha reports:

The Costa Rican study will survey some 800 people -- mostly men -- in selected from eight of the hardest hit towns and villages in the country's northernmost province, Guanacaste. This sampling will include both a group that has CKD and a group that does not. Researchers will compare their answers to a survey that measures their exposure to various risk factors. The factors being tested include pesticide exposure, heat stress, overuse of pain medication, and consumption of home-brewed and potentially tainted alcohol known as guaro.

As for the sugarcane company's plans, Sasha writes:

One major Costa Rican plantation, the Ingenio El Viejo, isn't waiting for the government study. Days after ICIJ's investigation was published in Costa Rica's La Nacion newspaper, the plantation adopted a policy of supplying cane workers with a hydrating solution. The company has also started working with doctors from the national health service to develop a complete plan to keep CKD from afflicting its fulltime workers, and provide workers with access to CKD screening.
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