Public Talk at UC Riverside to Focus on Chronic Kidney Disease Affecting Farm Workers

Sarath Gunatilake will explore possible role of pesticides and contaminate fertilizer is spreading the disease

Sarath Gunatilake is a professor in the Health Science Department at the California State University, Long Beach.Photo courtesy of S. Gunatilake, CSULB.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Chronic kidney disease is a serious problem that results in the gradual loss of kidney function. When the disease reaches an advanced stage, wastes can build up in the body.  Mysteriously, the disease has been affecting farm workers, predominantly men, in some countries in Central America and Asia.  What exactly is causing the agricultural workers to fall sick is not known.

Sarath Gunatilake, MD, Dr. P.H., a professor in the Health Science Department at the California State University, Long Beach, proposes that pesticides and contaminated fertilizers could be playing a role in spreading the disease.

On May 28, he will give a talk at the University of California, Riverside that addresses chronic kidney diseases and its possible causes.

The hour-long talk, titled “The Epidemic of Chronic Kidney Disease in Asia and Central America and the Role of Pesticides and Contaminated Fertilizer,” will begin at 12:10 p.m. in Bourns Hall A265.

“The disease has killed 22,000 people in Sri Lanka,” Gunatilake said. “And at least another 25,000 in Central America.  El Salvador banned the importation of 53 pesticides last year.”

According to Gunatilake, glyphosate, a chelating (binding) agent that delivers heavy metals from soil or contaminated fertilizers directly to the kidneys may require some attention — a novel hypothesis that may explain the serious problem in Central America and Asia.

“In addition there may be other additive chemicals that are added to these pesticide formulations that are far more toxic than glyphosate itself,” Gunatilake said.

Gunatilake is an American Board Certified Occupational and Family Medicine physician. He served as the medical director of Metropolitan State Hospital in Norwalk, Calif., for nine years. He served as a consultant to many international health organizations, such as the World Bank, USAID, UNICEF, World Health Organization, the South Pacific Commission, CARE International and the Asian Development Bank.

His areas of expertise include international public health, occupational and environmental medicine, health planning, sustainable development family health and nutrition, and evaluation and quality assurance in health care.

In 2007, he was awarded the Ruth and Milton Roemer Award for Excellence in Public Health Practice by the Southern California Public Health Association. In 2011, the Sri Lankan government recognized him for the outstanding services rendered to the Sri Lankan Health Care sector. In April 2014, the California State University, Long Beach awarded Gunatilake with the “Research Accomplishment Award of the Year” for his research on chronic kidney disease in Sri Lanka.

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