Asbestos cancer uncommon in Namibia

by Symptom Advice on January 26, 2012

“The threat of asbestos-induced cancer is not a high health risk in Namibia, as imagined before (sic).” These are the words of Dr Annel Zietsman, a cancer specialist at the Windhoek state hospital’s Dr Bernard may Cancer Care Center.

According to Zietsman, Namibian hospitals have not recorded any asbestos related cancer cases until last year when three patients were diagnosed with Mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a non-curable cancer of the lung lining caused by exposure to asbestos, which can take up to 40 years to develop. Breathlessness is one of the major symptoms of Mesothelioma and a patient diagnosed with the disease can succumb to the illness in less than six to 18 months. Mesothelioma is caused by unprotected exposure to asbestos. People who develop mesothelioma have mostly worked in asbestos mining areas where they could have come into direct contact with asbestos particles, either through inhaling asbestos fiber or dust. “Asbestos related diseases (ARDs) are very rare in Namibia, all three patients that were diagnosed last year have a long history of working in or near asbestos mines in South Africa’s Northern Cape,” says Zietsman.According to a Sapa-AFP article published on the Mines and Communities website in September 2007,  “Asbestos mining stopped in South Africa in the mid-1980s, but former workers and people living in the vicinity are still being diagnosed with ARDs like mesothelioma and asbestosis on a regular basis, while many more continue to be at risk from unrehabilitated mining sites.”A mining and asbestos expert and head of the Chamber of Mines of Namibia, Dr. Wotan Swiegers, could not be reached for comment as he is currently out of the country.As a result of the discovery of underground water supply pipes made from asbestos in the capital, an earlier Informanté expose revealed that almost all residents in the capital and a quarter of the Namibian population could be at risk of contracting various forms of cancer through the pipes that deliver drinking water to their households. Asbestos is a deadly material known for causing cancer even through exposure to a single microscopic fiber. Asbestos is a set of six naturally silicate minerals used commercially for their desirable physical properties. the inhalation of asbestos fibers can cause serious illnesses, including malignant lung cancer, mesothelioma, a formerly rare cancer strongly associated with exposure to amphibole asbestos, and asbestosis, a type of pneumoconiosis. the European Union has enforced bans on the use of most forms of asbestos since 2008. only six African countries – Algeria, Egypt, Gabon, Mozambique, Seychelles and South Africa – have banned the usage of asbestos in such forms. No such law has been passed or discussed in Namibia.

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