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Investigating a mystery epidemic that is devastating agricultural laborers.
Investigating a mystery epidemic that is devastating agricultural laborers.
100 backers pledged $9,000 to help bring this project to life.

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A deadly disease is killing thousands of the world's poorest laborers - and no one knows what is causing it.

In the United States, chronic kidney disease is a manageable illness that mostly affects older people with diabetes and high blood pressure. But during our recent visits to Central America, we encountered a deadly mystery. Each year thousands of agricultural laborers - almost all men, lacking the usual risk factors, and as young as their 20s - are dying of a new strain of chronic kidney disease that has baffled scientists for more than a decade. The disease has so decimated one community of sugarcane workers in Nicaragua called La Isla, or The Island, that it is now known to locals is La Isla de las Viudas - The Island of the Widows.

Last December, Sasha published a story about the epidemic for the investigative newsroom Center for Public Integrity, in partnership with the BBC, PRI/The World, and leading outlets in Nicaragua and Costa Rica. The report revealed the magnitude of the epidemic that is sweeping the region, prompting the Costa Rican government to launch a study and a leading Costa Rica plantation to announce an overhaul of its worker safety practices. Anna produced an award-winning photo gallery on the Island of the Widows that shows the day-to-day routines of a community where an incredible 40 percent of the working-age population suffers from the disease.

New evidence suggests that the same kind of deadly outbreaks are happening in other parts of the world. We suspect that the new strain of chronic kidney disease that affects otherwise healthy young men working in agriculture is not an anomaly to Central America but a serious international epidemic. 

We're asking for your support to travel to another region affected by the disease and report on our findings. Sasha plans to write a series of articles exploring this new international threat, and Anna will produce a photo gallery and video illustrating its human consequences.  You will get a first look at our materials from the field and updates as the story unfolds, and we will acknowledge all of our backers on the Center for Public Integrity website. Each year this deadly epidemic is killing thousands of the world's poorest citizens - please help make the world take notice.

NOTE: We're excited to send you our materials as we go along - and they are for private use only.  Our accounts, images and findings remain our property, and cannot be published, broadcast or otherwise disseminated.

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Funding period

- (17 days)