Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Asbestos Will Stay Off U.N. Watch List

Chrysotile asbestos will stay off a PIC (Prior Informed Consent) list of dangerous UN chemicals said observers attending the Rotterdam Convention talks in Rome this Tuesday. India, Pakistan, Vietnam and the Philippines spoke out opposing it's inclusion. The inclusion of chrysotile asbestos on the PIC list would not mean countries had to ban it's import. It would only have forced exporters to label it as hazardous and inform importing countries. Last year Canada exported $77 million US worth of asbestos (almost 95% of the amount mined.) 43% was shipped to India.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Abestos in India: How our new Project Will Help

Dr. Joshi, from our Medical Advisory Board, was quoted in an Ottawa newspaper this week. He commented on asbestos exposure in the fishing village of Urur Kuppam, in the south of Chennai. Visaka industries produces asbestos-cement sheets in Hyderabad. The sheets are used all over the country by people who do not know the danger associated with asbestos fibers. These sheets get old and fall apart, producing airborne fibers. People who use the sheets often cut them which also releases fibers. What is the organization doing to help?

When I was in India, the biggest problem became clear. There is a system set up that does require compensation from companies when their employees are sick. Many doctors simply do not have the training to diagnose these ailments properly. Our workshops will give the doctors the training they need to recognize occupational lung disease. With diagnosis, patients receive better treatment and problem areas can be recognized as populations show high incidences of illness from exposure.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Our First Project: Workshop for Medical Professionals

I have returned to the United States and spent the last few weeks thinking about what steps our organization needs to take to make an effective start. We met with several interesting and important people and I have an idea of what role I would like them to play in the next few years. We raised over $12,000 on August 23rd. How will we spend the money?

I was walking down Valencia street in San Francisco and saw a man and his son carrying their suitcases and a few personal items down the street with no clear destination. The man was extremely drunk and yelling about how he hated this country. Even though I have really appreciated the United States since my visit to India, Americans are all having some a tough time right now. The son seemed distant but continued to hush his father again and again. "At least we are alive" hissed the father at his dismissive son. The son, who could not have been older that 16, looked at his father and calmly said "living and surviving are two different things." Pretty smart kid.

While I have had the opportunity to live my life, many people I came into contact with in India seemed to only be surviving. They are just getting by with very few options. I think this is a product of globalization and lack of regulation, but one that there is no easy solution to.

The situation in India is not easy to understand. One obvious thing that seems to be missing from the process is diagnosis. Very few Indian workers are diagnosed with pneumoconiosis. Most states have not diagnosed a single case of silicosis or asbestosis. Medical professionals simply do not know how to diagnose most occupational lung disease. Workers are given a diagnosis of TB which does not have the necessary repercussions on employers who do not follow health standards. After a board meeting yesterday it was decided that the first program undertaken by Work-to-Live will be the establishment of a workshop for medical professionals in India. We hope to provide them with the tools necessary to diagnose occupational lung disease in their communities.

Dr. John Parker and Dr. David Weill have already agreed to participate. Dr. T. K. Joshi has agreed to be the point person in India. The plan right now is to have it in Jaipur some time in April 2009. The event will focus on basic diagnostic techniques and methodology. I plan to get a questionnaire to medical professionals who might attend to assess their level of experience and understanding of the issues. This will help our doctors provide information on the subject areas that are of most importance.

The experience I had in India was incredibly useful for the future of the organization. While this issue is complicated, and workers we met will not be living instead of just surviving overnight, there are simple things we can do to drastically improve the situation. Systems like workers compensation are already in place. The huge thing missing is the diagnosis. It is also a problem of awareness. It is difficult for an employer to notice a problem unless his workers are being diagnosed properly with occupational health diseases from workplace exposure. From my five weeks in India it is clear doctors to give their patients better treatment is an excellent investment.