Sri Lanka's new health minister says a mystery kidney disease that has ravaged farmers in part of the country for two decades will be given top priority under the new administration.

An estimated 70,000 to 400,000 people are affected in the North Central province rice basket, but the country has fewer than 200 dialysis machines available.

Dr. Rajitha Senarathna says he will enhance dialysis facilities for kidney patients by contributing more than $750,000 in private funds to the cause. He says the government also plans to launch another program to provide free lunches and vitamins for students in the affected area to help improve their nutrition levels and overall health.

The chronic disease has killed up to 20,000 people. The cause remains unknown despite years of research.