Open letter to academics and Presidential Task Force on CKDU: WHO CARES FOR CKDU | Daily News

Open letter to academics and Presidential Task Force on CKDU: WHO CARES FOR CKDU

“You are a scientist, and you want to know. But if you want to learn about Cassava, don’t come to me with your long questionnaires and preconceived ideas. Instead, ask me about my life, and I will tell you all what I know about Cassava.”

(Virgilio, a farmer in the Dominican Republic)

Two weeks ago, I posted an article on a popular website which has been discussing and debating the CKDu issue for almost one year or more. This article clearly described two contrasting villages in the dry zone barely one kilometer apart manifesting a striking difference in the distribution of CKDu patients.

In one village (Badulupura), over 25 percent of households were affected by the disease, while in the other(Sarabhoomiya), there was only one positively diagnosed CKDu patient. He too had lived for 10 years in Badulupura before transferring to Sarabhoomiya. The two villages were within the same Grama Niladhari division (Ginnoruwa, in the Mahiyangana Pradeshiya Sabha).

Residents in both villages had been resettled under the Mahaweli project in 1982. They were mostly from Badulla, Welimada, Passara, Etampitiya and Kandeketiya areas in the Badulla District. Prior to the Mahaweli project, the area had been covered in forest. Rice farming was the major occupation of residents in both villages. Both villages had their paddy fields located in the same tract (Yaya). They cultivated the same rice varieties, and used the same fertiliser and pesticides. They did not use fertiliser or pesticide in their tree covered homesteads. Their food habits were essentially the same. The only obvious difference between the two villages was one of topography.

Badulupura was located on the upper slopes of the rolling landscape, while Sarabhoomiya was on relatively flat land (see attached map). These observations clearly pointed to some environmental factor in the homesteads of Badulupura residents as the likely culprit contributing to CKDu. Probing deeper, it was discovered that Badulupura villagers drank well water obtained from shallow dug wells, while majority of Sarabhoomiya residents drank water from the Mahaweli Ganga nearby. Badulupura residents complained of hard water (“kivul vatura”) in their wells. “River water has no “Kivula”, say Sarabhoomiya residents.

Probing still deeper, the researchers discovered that the Electrical Conductivity-EC (a measure of dissolved salts in the ionized state) of many Badulupura wells was almost three times more (300-600 micros) than water in Sarabhoomiya village. River water Mahaweli (Ganga) was rarely over 200 micros. Few dug wells found in Sarabhoomiya had exceptionally good quality water (even less than 100 micros). One tube well here registered 34 on the EC meter!) This was almost as good as rainwater. People in Sarabhoomiya living further away from the river, consumed water from these wells. Our observations at Ginnoruwa indicated that quality of drinking water appeared to hold the clue to unraveling the CKDu mystery.

The same article referred to above was also published in two leading English language newspapers (Daily News on August 5 and the Sunday Island on August 7). Only two persons on the web site made passing reference to the publication, many others appeared to be preoccupied splitting hairs debating nebulous theories. The newspaper report drew responses from two soil scientists - one a retired Professor from Ruhuna, and the other, a former Director General of Agriculture. Both scientists evinced a keen interest in visiting the two villages described.

Low profile, community-based research with people affected by kidney disease occupying centre stage, tends to be referred to as “anecdotal” and brushed aside by many mainstream academics. It is precisely this failure to actively engage affected communities in open dialogue that prevents accurate diagnosis of CKDu and its ramifications. The scientific community in Sri Lanka needs to make a radical change moving away from their comfort zone of attending seemingly endless seminars and symposia (“talk shops”) and spend more time out in the field coming to terms with grass root level realities. Finding solutions to the CKDu problem based on available knowledge, must receive the highest priority. Publishing research papers in peer reviewed journals seeking academic advancement, will not serve the long suffering patients.

The striking difference described in our work at Ginnoruwa has not been reported anywhere else in Sri Lanka to date. However, similar trends may be discovered in other ‘CKDu hot spots’ if one has the time and inclination to look beneath the surface. Finding exactly what it is in the water that causes kidney damage, may take quite some time to pin point as several substances may be having a synergistic effect. Yet, the incontrovertible evidence emerging from our research at Ginnoruwa highlights the urgent necessity to redouble our efforts in providing clean drinking water to CKDu affected villages. The Presidential task force, believed to be holding on to millions of unspent money for want of ‘viable projects’, may emulate the example set by the ‘Raindrops Project’ in Ginnoruwa- a small - scale private sector initiative- which has clearly demonstrated the viability of rainwater harvesting as a means of providing potable water at the door step to widely scattered rural households in the dry zone, in a sustainable and environment friendly way.

The writer can be contacted at: [email protected]


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