Excessive levels of silica in water is the cause of kidney problems in preliminary studies. (Representational image)
Visakhapatnam: The lingering questions over the decades-old kidney ailments, of unknown aetiology, in Srikakulam district seems to have reached a logical conclusion as researchers pinpointed "excessive levels of silica in water" as the cause of the kidney problems in preliminary studies. They are currently carrying out a second round of studies to further cross-check the hypothesis. Earlier, higher levels of heavy metals and toxins in the water or rampant use of pesticides were believed to be the reason behind the kidney problems. But the researchers ruled out those reasonable causes.
The perplexing kidney conundrum first struck the region in the early 90s and affected about 120 villages in several mandals, including Etcherla, Som-peta, Ichapuram, Kaviti, Mandasa, Kanchili, Vaj-rapukotturu, etc. Making it worse, many youth and middle-aged persons succumbed to kidney diseases in this region, where agriculture is the predominant livelihood activity. According to some estimates, about 4,500 people died of this rare medical phenomenon and about 50,000 people are suffering from some form of chronic kidney disease without any obvious cause.
The kidney mystery has also colloquially earned the name of "Uddanam nephropathy." Speaking to Deccan Chronicle, vice-chancellor of Dr NTR University of Health Sciences, Dr T Ravi Raju, who has been working on Uddanam nephropathy, said: "The water and soil analyses of the region, carried out by the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, had attributed excessive levels of silica in the water to the kidney diseases. The Andhra Medical College conducted this study in association with the Harvard University and the Indian Council of Medical Research. We requested the ICMR to carry out a large-scale study to arrive at the final conclusion. With the encouragement of the state government, we are presently carrying out a second round of studies with door-to-door screening in the affected mandals and collecting kidney biopsies."
Dr Ravi Raju said: "If the final studies also come up with the same conclusion of excessive silica levels, supplying RO water to these mandals can help prevent the diseases at the root level itself. But the key challenge lies with the disease management of the already diagnosed patients. We are drafting remedial measures to prevent the progression of the disease in the disease-afflicted persons. In the meantime, the dialysis units in Tekkali and the RIMS of Srikakulam are serving the critically ill patients."