Cancer and respiratory diseases worsening

A World Bank funded study shows that increased air pollution caused by motorbikes and dust is causing some 200 new cancer cases in the Burkina Faso capital, Ouagadougou, every year.

Increased levels of benzene in the atmosphere are the primary cause of the disease, according to a government report, “Air Quality in Ouagadougou”. Benzene is a cancerous substance contained in motorcycle fuel, which is a mix of lubricant and petrol.

“The situation is alarming regarding the high concentration of benzene contained in the motorcycle fuel used by most people here,” the director of sanitation and pollution prevention at the ministry of environment, Zephirin Athanase Ouedraogo, told IRIN.

The air quality study was conducted by the World Health Organization in partnership with the Ministry of Environment and Quality of Living, between November 2006 and March 2007 using monitoring stations set up all over the 2 million-strong city.

The study also found out that in Ouagadougou there is an annual average concentration of dust particles estimated at 176µ/m3, with a daily peak often around 600 µ/m3. The WHO standard for a healthy environment is 70 µ/m3.

The report indicates that every year dust-related lung disease accounts for between 10 and 14 percent of cancer-related deaths in Ouagadougou.

“The main enemy of our respiratory system is the bad quality of air we are breathing,” explains Professor Ouaoba Kampatileba, head of the respiratory disease department at Yalgado Ouedraogo hospital in Ouagadougou.

The only way to avoid these diseases is to use filters or masks to protect against breathing the particles in, Kampatileba said.

“The study has helped set up a clear cartography of pollution in Ouagadougou and helped us identify the sources of air pollution in Ouagadougou,” pollution prevention official Athanase Ouedraogo told IRIN.

Kampatileba said 15 percent of the 8,000 patients admitted every year at his clinic have air pollution-related diseases. These include sore throat, sinus, infection of the throat artery, bronchitis, pneumonia and deafness.

Late treatment often leads to deafness, chronic lung infections or cancer. Air pollution also causes allergic diseases such as asthma, which is increasingly common, according to Kampatileba.

Chemotherapy is available in Burkina Faso, and simple surgery is possible, but people who need radiotherapy have to be sent to other countries in the region and Europe.

Ouagadougou is rapidly filling up as people move to the city from the countryside. The report said this will result in more motor vehicles and a greater incidence of disease.

According to the study if current rates continue, by 2017 the cases of respiratory diseases due to benzene – mostly lung infections – will increase to 359 every year while the accumulated number of lung cancer cases will hit 49,000.

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