VIDEO: “They work to die”, Mystery Disease Killing Central American Sugarcane Workers

Workers who cut sugarcane and other crops in the coastal lowlands of Central America are being hit by a mysterious disease:

From Panama to southern Mexico, laborers are coming down with kidney failure at rates unseen virtually anywhere else in the world. Families and villages are being devastated by the loss of nearly entire generations of men.

Since 2000, chronic kidney disease has killed more than 24,000 people in El Salvador and Nicaragua, the two countries that are by far the worst-hit by the disease.

Rigorous scientific investigation has only just begun in the communities hit by the epidemic, and relatively few facts have been established, but scientists are coming up with what they believe to be a credible hypothesis. They say the roots of the epidemic appear to lie in the grueling nature of the work performed by its victims.

Esteban Félix, a Peruvian photographer from the Associated Press, documented the effect of the epidemic in Chichigalpa, Nicaragua, one of the most affected communities.

Thanks to his work, Félix received the Gabriel García Marquez Prize for Journalism [es] this year in the Journalistic Image category.

In this video, edited by Alba Mora (@albamoraroca) with music by Dan Bality, Félix tells the stories behind the photos that he took during his stay at Chichigalpa. In his own words, Félix summarizes:

Uno trabaja para vivir, pero en realidad esta gente trabaja para morir.

Some people work to live, but here, people work to die.

Bitter Sugar: A Mystery Disease from Alba Mora on Vimeo.

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