The Health Situation in Libya: Part I cancer
"Every single time they called or I called [Libya] they told me of someone who just died or who is dying. The cause of death is either a car accident or cancer." Laments Sereeb.
For a country of less than 6 million people this statement should raise a thousand red flags!
Sereeb was not the first one to notice this anomaly related to chronic diseases, I pointed out in my previous post that "I have lost six friends to cancer, while another five are in various stages of survival/remission. I have also lost one to a heart attack, and two to car accidents and I have one friend recovering from a stroke." This means at least 11 of my friends have cancer; I have not brought up the neighbours, work colleagues, family members, acquaintances and their families, neighbours etc…thinking exponentially and factoring in the funerals I have attended I would say it is a national disaster.
Before you proceed to my report below please ensure you read and understand this disclaimer: the following is not a research done by scientific methods. I have no hard numbers or statistics to give but only my own personal observations- so please do not use it as a weapon against me or Libyans.
OK – with this out of the way we can move on…
My first observation that something was amiss was when the number of miscarriages in Libya spiraled alarmingly in the mid 80s. From that time up to now I can confidently say that the majority of Libyan married women have had at least one miscarriage during their first year of marriage and before the birth of their first child. This is NOT NORMAL. Notice I said majority – not all! For those who did not have a miscarriage then we need to dig a bit deeper and of course there are always exceptions to the rule. I noticed this first with my aunts who began founding families in the mid 80s. I also noticed that this phenomenon began in the mid 80s onward roughly when the following international issues were unfolding.
o Eldorado Canyon
o The Chernobyl disaster (the fires did last for 10 days)
o The Aozou strip border conflict
o Desert Storm
For the sake of objectivity I would like to add the following factors:
o Social upheaval
o Environmental Pollution
I've read many articles, papers and books and I understand that my story could be criticised as unsubstantiated, but I'm simply searching for a cause not conspiracy theories or a scapegoat.
Two essential things I've noted during the last decades:
(1) Fertility has decreased in Libya, families now average 3-5 kids, whereas before it used to be 6-10. Increasingly IVF pregnancies are sought in Jordan (for the sake of discretion as this is a sensitive topic) Meanwhile Libyan women are showing a range of gynae/obstetric complaints. The UNICEF report gives us the following figures for total fertility rate in Libya: 2006 = 2.8, in 1990 = 4.8 and in 1970= 7.6. Not sure what that means. [ref]
It could be socially related such as marrying later in life of course but not if it is chronic-diseases-related.
(2) Cancer in all forms is widespread but particularly, breast, ovarian and uterine cancer in women, prostate cancer for men and leukemia and cancer of the stomach in both genders. I don't think it is due to improved screening process because we don't have that kind of attitude and culture established yet. Ex: Libyan women in their 30s do not automatically have mammograms or even breast self examination at home.
Basically when Libyans go to the doctor it means it is serious.
Surveillance of non-communicable diseases in Libya and particularly cancer may not yet have been underway. But in 2003 there was apparently a first attempt at collecting such data in Benghazi. The population in eastern Libya is 1.6 million; cancer cases registered in 2003 were 997.[ref]
The annual report from the Secretariat of Health and Environment for 2007 is finally out and it apparently contains a survey of cancer cases registered from both Western and Eastern regions of Libya, but the electronic full copy has still not been loaded to the official website.
A- Social/cultural causes:
National authorities have reported that 13% of the mortality in Libya is attributed to cancer as a result of social and lifestyle changes ( ex : change in smoking pattern and prevalence).
B. Environmental issues possibly due to modernization, sanctions and military ambitions
(1) Water pollution:
"The combined impact of sewage, oil byproducts, and industrial waste threatens the nation's coast and the Mediterranean Sea generally. Libya has 0.8 cu km of renewable water resources with 87% used in farming activity and 4% for industrial purposes. Only about 68% of the people living in rural areas have pure drinking water. The nation's cities produce about0.6 million tons of solid waste per year. [ref]
Potential hazards are detailed here as well.[ref]
(2) Carbon Emission:
Libya has the highest CO2 emissions per capita in Africa on a par with Japan and UK. [ref]
The ILSA act of 1996 most probably had some kind of detrimental impact on these results by preventing investment in the oil sector that could have helped purchase equipment and material to curb this environmental disaster.
(3) The quest for chemical, biological and nuclear arsenals:
Various attempts were exerted since the 80s with Rabta, Sebha and Tarhuna plants being among the most famous along with the Tajoura nuclear research reactor as Dr Joshua Sinai kindly mentions in this now old (1997) but relevant analysis.
Anyway as we know these efforts all culminated in Libya's now famous dismantling of its WMD programme in 2004. However, we can only guess whether these activities have released toxins into the environment. There are no studies to my knowledge.
(4) Agriculture and Aquaculture:
Libya is on the Mediterranean and Tuna is a staple Libyan diet a study in 1997 reveals that the metal levels found in it are not considered toxic. [ref]
I don't understand those results but maybe blogger Maya M can. I'm sure someone did a more current survey.
As for crops, I fear there is indiscriminate and uncontrolled use of pesticides, but that is only my hunch. I've also noted too many plastic houses in farms. As for cattle and poultry I think that businesses are abusing the public trust with the imported cattle feed but then greed and corruption is universal.
For some at a glance statistics which I don't understand, look here,
C. The Aozou Strip:
This "long stretch of desolate land located in the middle of the Sahara Desert [has been a] zone of contention among the colonial powers of Africa, and […] between the now independent and sovereign countries of Chad and Libya". Libya captured it in 1973. "It remained in Libyan hands until a Chadian offensive in the late 1980s. In 1990, the two countries finally agreed to take their dispute to the International Court of Justice, which ruled in early 1994 that the Aozou Strip belonged to Chad." [ref]
We won't dwell on the casualties or the historical ownership for this land which was stupidly given up/left in limbo in the 50s (another story), but the salient question is
"Why would two countries engage in hostilities over a stretch of desert? According to rumors, the Aozou Strip contains rich deposits of uranium." [ref]
This is related to pursuit of military advantage mentioned in paragraph B(3) earlier. On the other hand although the common understanding is that uranium has not been mined yet, but in the proverbial fog of war we have no idea what happened, but what we can be certain of is that uranium is radioactive and toxic.
Photo source [ref].
Information states that " there is no evidence nor any likelihood of an increase attributable to Chernobyl in birth defects, adverse pregnancy outcomes, decreased fertility or any other radiation-induced disease in the general population either in the contaminated areas or further afield." But it also states that "the lighter material [released] was carried by wind over the Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and to some extent over Scandinavia and Europe." [ref]
Yet crops, flora, fauna, milk, water bodies and fish have been contaminated in Europe [ref]
A recent study in 2007 maintains that kids were affected in Sweden because their mental development was impaired in utero. [ref]
Apparently the radiation cloud from the Chernobyl accident was "eventually detected all over the world. Events, such as volcano eruptions and nuclear bomb testings, result in major effluent emission that also can be detected with very sensitive equipment.[…] on the other hand the occurrence of chronic affects may never be validated because such relatively small increments are statistically indistinguishable in the face of the great variability of spontaneous cancer rates." [ref]
D. Desert Storm (the Gulf War):
That's very close in the Near East and what is interesting to know is this bit: " The third and largest phase of the air campaign ostensibly targeted military targets throughout Iraq and Kuwait: Scud missile launchers, weapons of mass destruction sites, weapons research facilities and naval forces.[...]Allied bombing raids were successful in destroying Iraqi civilian infrastructure. 11 of Iraq's 20 major power stations and 119 substations were totally destroyed, while a further six major power stations were damaged. At the end of the war, electricity production was at four percent of its pre-war levels. Bombs destroyed the utility of all major dams, most major pumping stations and many sewage treatment plants, turning Iraq from one of the most advanced Arab countries into one of the most backward. Telecommunications equipment, port facilities, oil refineries and distribution, railroads and bridges were also destroyed." [ref]
While destruction of enemy infrastructure maybe a standard procedure in war I am left to wonder what sort of toxic material was released from all this and particularly how much. From Iraq to the region needs only a short leap of imagination.
That was before even hearing about the depleted uranium. " They were told depleted uranium was not hazardous. Now 23 years after a US arms plant closed, workers and residents have cancer " [ref].
In a 2003 article in CS Monitor, I read with shock and awe that " depleted-uranium bullets are made of low-level radioactive nuclear-waste material, left over from the making of nuclear fuel and weapons. It is 1.7 times as dense as lead, and burns its way easily through armor. But it is controversial because it leaves a trail of contamination that has half-life of 4.5 billion years - the age of our solar system."
E. Eldorado Canyon
This was an aerial bombing of Libyan cities in 1986 (you can read my rant here).
I'm wondering what was the ammunition; what 'shit' did the bombs that fell on us from the sky contain? this site though interesting and lengthy provided no concrete information [ref]
From the Chernobyl cloud it is clear that meteorological patterns were a contributing factor in the spread of toxic pollutants to Europe, it is therefore easy to believe some material may have been carried from Europe to North Africa or to the Middle East. From space photographs the zone affected is wider than thought. I remember vividly that day in April 1986 as it came not too long after the US bombing over Libya; and the sky on that day was grey and murky even though we had not heard about Chernobyl immediately.
Blogger Shlemazl who grew up in the USSR and is coincidently a nuclear physicist (I think) could be able to help me understand.
Right on the thread of weather and climate, I would like to add that Libya has famous sandstorms whereby "dust from the Sahara Desert can be transported over thousands of kilometres by convection currents, which also cause other meteorological conditions, such as thunderstorms. Because the Sahara, where sandstorms are very common, is a major source of mineral dust, large concentrations of the dust can be found in the tropical Atlantic and the Caribbean." [ref]
Hence looking at photos I have no problem imagining what can be carried in these particles whether from the desert or back from Europe. If you look at my photos here from 2006 you will have an idea [ref]
Since military hostilities and industrial accidents (as we know) do have an effect on the environment and this can be compounded by the weather peculiarities and since we are an oil producing country, Highlander became curious about pollution indices in Libya. I could not find much except for a study on the Gulf of Sirte area for levels of radiation. I'm sure it is fine but again I'm not qualified enough to decipher it. Volunteers are welcome.
In conclusion cancer alone in Libya is of epic proportion. I would venture to say it is the number 3 killer and I'm not sure such a large number of cases is normal. I tried to think of all the possible causes but as a layperson and someone not in the field of medicine or research I understand my limitations and accept that I could be wrong but at least maybe it can inspire some thoughts. What I am sure about though is that too many Libyans are dying of cancer.
I believe that Libya's biggest concerns are chronic diseases, with cardiovascular, cancer and diabetes topping the list, while the no. 2 killer are road traffic accidents (RTAs) which are not a 'disease' but which if not fatal can result in debilitating injuries. I will devote a special post to RTAs, meanwhile the next post will discuss Libya's health system and will not be limited to cancer.
Let me know what you think…
Saturday, August 23, 2008
The Health Situation in Libya: Part I cancer