As we marked World Kidney Day yesterday, it was of special if not deadly interest to Sri Lanka because of the kidney disease epidemic in the North Central Province mainly and now spreading to other areas.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa, in a practical and effective move, coinciding with the event ordered that the import and use of weedicides containing Glyphosate be banned immediately. Project Minister and Deputy Economic Development Minister S.M. Chandrasena, who is from the NCP, told a news conference investigations carried out by medical specialists and scientists had revealed that kidney disease was mainly caused by Glyphosate, a broad-spectrum systemic herbicide used to kill weeds, especially annual broadleaf weeds and grasses known to compete with commercial crops grown around the globe.
Mr. Chandrasena said the NCP had some 25,000 patients suffering from kidney ailments and that the ministry would use all possible means to fight the disease by providing them with funds to meet their medical expenses and supply them with clean drinking water.
For several years, medical specialists, environmentalists and others have been warning that the excessive use of imported chemical weedicides, pesticides and fertilisers had polluted the groundwater in the NCP and other areas, resulting in thousands of farmers being afflicted by kidney diseases, including total kidney failure which requires regular dialysis and often leads to a slow death.
Agrochemicals were brought into Sri Lanka in subtle and sophisticated ways after 1977 when the country allowed itself to be fully netted into the globalised capitalist market economic system which has now virtually crashed in the West and is heading for a crash in other countries.
Promoters of imported agrochemicals, including transnational corporations, their agents and the politicians or officials who are financially backed by these companies, claimed that the agrochemicals bring about a bigger harvest and are necessary if not essential for agriculture. But they have conveniently forgotten the fact that for thousands of years Sri Lanka was known and respected as the rice bowl of Asia and our farmers had not even heard of any imported agrochemicals. They used bio-fertilisers like cow dung or mixtures of leaves for organic farming and they had a plentiful harvest with the soil also being enriched. As the word agriculture suggests, organic farming became part if not the heart of our culture and civilisation. What happened after 1977 was that agriculture was twisted and turned into agribusiness which today has ruined the soil of our mother earth, polluted underground water and has resulted in one of the worst kidney epidemics in the world.
In addition to polluted water, people-friendly medical specialists have also pointed out that the excessive intake of strong medicinal drugs is another cause of kidney ailments including kidney failure. Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena said last week that up to 14,000 medicinal drugs had been registered for imports. As a result, people have got into the habit of taking strong drugs regularly and some people are known to take strong antibiotics even without medical advice when they develop slight fever which often could be cured with some Koththamalli and Paracitamol. Hopefully under the Senaka Bibile essential medicines concept which Minister Sirisena has promised to implement within a month, Sri Lanka will import only essential or life-saving drugs and people could be educated on the rational use of medicines.
Chalani Rubesinghe, Environmental Officer of the Centre for Environmental Justice said whatever the cause of the disease be, action was now needed to reduce the number of cases in the worst stage and therefore, awareness and increasing facilities for pre-identification of the disease, were a timely need.