Rampant kidney disease detected among inhabitants of backwater villages along Lake Chapala’s north shore has made national and international headlines.
Ongoing scientific research has not yet pinpointed the root of the epidemic that is causing chronic illness and the premature death of hundreds of children and young adults.
Studies suggest that contaminated water sources, poisonous agrochemicals and pesticides in the land and farm products, poor nutrition due to ignorance and poverty, the toxic fumes of burning trash, and insufficient access to affordable health care may all be linked to the scourge identified in the isolated indigenous communities of Agua Caliente, Chalpicote, San Pedro Itzican, and Mezcala, located east of Chapala.
Todd Stong, a U.S. engineer involved in local humanitarian work for the past 16 years, included discussion of the area’s kidney disease crisis in his recent talk at Ajijic’s Open Circle group. He pointed to growing evidence that genetics are also at play. He estimates that birth defects may account for up to 50 per cent of villagers aged five to 30 who are suffering from different stages of kidney disease. The theory does not discount the added risks of unsafe water, environmental factors and poor dietary habits, particularly regular consumption of cola drinks from infancy.
With a keen interest in fostering early detection of kidney and other childhood ailments, he has launched a urinalysis testing program using inexpensive dip stick kits that cost around one dollar for every five children. With the assistance of volunteer nursing professionals recruited in the foreign community, the program is being carried out free of charge at local schools that give their consent. Diagnosis facilitates prompt medical attention for young patients whose lives are at stake.
As cited by Elaine Halleck in an August 17 story for the the Guadalajara Reporter, the U.S. Renal Data System ranks Taiwan, Jalisco and the United States as the places with the highest incidence of treated end-stage renal disease.
According to Stong, a deeper problem is that over 80 percent of local people afflicted with chronic kidney disease do not become aware of the health problem until it is quite advanced. Proper dialysis treatments require frequent trips to Guadalajara that many patients simply cannot afford. And demand for kidney transplants far outweighs availability.