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Tackling CKDu Is banning agrochemicals enough?

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A gazette notification to ban five chemicals including glyphosate was imposed last Wednesday (March 25). This came with the appointment of committee headed by Jathika Hela Uruma (JHU) Member of Parliament Ven. Athuraliy, Rathana Thera to explore ways of preventing Chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown Aetiology (CKDu) in Sri Lanka.

The other four chemicals which were banned are Propanil, Carbaryl, Cholopyrifos and Carbofuran. Their effects have been identified as being a contributory factor for CKDu. 

What is CKDu?
CKDu is a disease found among Sri Lankan farmers in areas such as the Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Kurunegala, Mahiyanganaya, Rideemaliyadda and Kandaketiya. Recent findings attribute the spread of CKDu in the country to the use of harmful agrichemicals in areas where paddy is cultivated. When affected by the disease people will slowly lose function of their kidneys. When Chronic Kidney Disease reaches an advanced stage, dangerous levels of fluid and electrolytes can build up. This could ultimately lead to the final stages of kidney failure and also death. In Sri Lanka alone in the past two decades there has been several thousand deaths due to the disease.

While Chronic Kidney Disease has been in the country for a long time, the past few years has seen an increase of attempts to ban the toxics which help the spread of the disease. Most of these attempts have been proven futile. In 2012 a report by the World Health Organization recommended to reduce the use of agro chemicals in Sri Lanka. But the reduction was never implemented. Similarly, in 2014, under the then president Mahinda Rajapaksa, an attempt was made to ban the five toxics for the first time. Again the bill was not passed.

While these toxics prove harmful, an alternative for them are bio pesticides. These pesticides are derived from natural materials such as animals, plants, bacteria, and certain minerals. For example, even canola oil and baking soda have pesticidal applications and therefore are considered to be bio pesticides. According to Senior Professor Priyani Paranagama of Kelaniya University, Farmers should be encouraged to use traditional rice pesticides and fertilizers. According to the Professor farmers have become addicted to synthetic toxics, using Bio pesticides made up of starch would be a more beneficiary option.

General precautions when using chemicals
The spread of CKDu goes hand in hand with precautionary measures not being carried out by Farmers. Wearing face masks and gloves contribute to safety measures. According to Professor Paranagama, a problem which greatly affects safety standards is that farmers often eat with weedicide bottles kept nearby. As this could be very harmful, it is important that farmers be educated about the safety standards when using and disposing weedicide bottles.

Other problems that cause the spread of disease is the amount of hard water present in food content. According to Professor Paranagama, patients find out about the disease only when 75 percent of the kidneys have been affected irreversibly.  She elaborated saying “giving good water is important for the prevention of CKDu. To reduce long term toxic element traces found in soil, growing trees and using Phytoremediation will help”

Disease on the rise
Director of the National project for the prevention of kidney diseases and lecturer of Rajarata University, Dr. Channa Jayasumana said that there is a considerable rise in the CKDu cases. He added, “CKDu first began to emerge in 1994 from Padaviya area in Anuradhapura district.”

He added that though initially the disease was only confined to the Anuradhapura area, later it also emerged in Polonnaruwa, Trincomalee and Vavuniya, “Now the CKDu is rearing its head in areas like Sevanalgala and some areas in Monaragala. Especially paddy farming colonies are at the risk of the kidney disease, particularly CKDu.”

According to Dr. Channa Jayasumana, much research has been done by now to identify the real couse for CKDu. He stated, “Many chemicals have a link with the disease. Herbicides used by the paddy farmers, Glyphosate, Paraquat and several other chemicals have been identified as posing risks.

He added that on December 23 in 2014, a gazette notification was issued to ban five chemicals though it is not still implemented, “We have been pressuring the government to implement it.” However Dr. Channa Jayasumana said that the affected people have been provided with drinking water facilities so far.

He also added that a committee has been appointed recently to work on the prevention of CKDu, but remarked that the committee is more like a political committee since the committee does not have any

But Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thera said that he was an advisor to the appointed committee, and added that the committee does not only comprise politicians. The Thera added, “The committee will take measures regarding CKDu. The committee will also look into the ban of five chemicals.”

Screening for potential patients
Deputy Director General of Health Services, Dr. Sarath Amunugama said that there are nearly 60,000 suspected cases of CKDu and said that screening will be done further to identify CKDu cases.

Dr. Sarath Amunugama affirmed that the real cause for CKDu cannot be determined, “We only know the contributing factors of the disease, but don’t know the real cause behind the disease.” He added that the reasons for the disease include geological reasons as well as agro- chemicals including the fertilizers. He added that combination of agro-chemicals and soil conditions are causing the problem.

He also explained the strategies being used including doing more ground level screening in the affected villages, by getting the support of nephrologists and increasing the biological facilities.

Dr. Amunugama said, “Use of regular drugs, food without heavy metals, regulating the use of agrochemicals, following correct ways of using agro-chemicals will help to prevent the disease.”

It is obvious that attention should be focused on prevention of CKDu by identifying the main contributing factors of the disease.

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