CANCER fatalities are now 15 times more than deaths from HIV and Aids, a chemical pathologist has said.
By Ropafadzo Mapimhidze
Features & Supplements Editor
In a report presented at a Brown Bag Meeting at Unicef offices recently, chemical pathologist Hilda Marima-Matarira said mortality rates due to liver cancer had risen as a result of high levels of water contamination in the country.
“We have a serious health problem in Zimbabwe and it is imperative that the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) be capacitated so that they can independently monitor water bodies at all settlements so that local authorities do not issue contaminated water,” Mutuma-Matarira said.
“The pilot study conducted from five provinces discovered that all water bodies in Harare, Mashonaland West, Mashonaland Central, Masvingo and Matabeleland South, are contaminated.”
The findings, which were conducted by five medical researchers, noted that the majority of wells, boreholes and dams were contaminated with substances that cause cancer.
Brown Bag meetings were held monthly to strengthen capacity in communities through dissemination of information and sharing current research findings.
However, Mutuma-Matarira said the good thing was that there was HIV intervention that had raised the survival rate of Zimbabweans from 35 to 55 years.
“But with cancer, we are rock bottom and survival rate is very poor,” she added.
“Liver cancer patients come to hospitals too late and die within two to six months. This is because the heavy burden of cancer has no public funding and hence many people cannot afford the treatment and care.”
Mutuma-Matarira said human contaminants of water were caused by bacteria, viruses and parasites from sewage, nappy waste and oral contraceptives.
“This is why you find young girls reaching puberty early because of the water contaminated with those metabolites,” she said.
“Other contaminants of water include nitrates, fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides, industrial waste, paint solvents and oils and chemicals.”
In Matabeleland South, it was discovered that mercury used in processing minerals was causing muscle tremor, double vision and loss of teeth.
“We went to Filabusi and did physical and pathological checkups on 20 small-scale miners and 60% complained of body weakness and 50 of them had lost at least three teeth each and had respiratory distress, renal disease and mercury elevated in blood (30%) and hair (40%).
We also found much bacteria in their urine and nearly 70% of these patients had these infections. And 80% had dysfunction of their livers because mercury is a carcinogen that promotes cancer. About 30% had dysfunctional kidneys,” Mutuma-Matarira said.
She said there was evidence of arsenic water contamination in Masvingo, Mashonaland Central and a few industrial sites in Harare. Nickel contamination in the Nickel Trojan Bindura area was also noted in all dams, tap water, boreholes and wells in the area.
“In Nyahunda in Bikita, Masvingo, there is evidence of nitrate contamination in water. Mercury processing is very high in small-scale mining areas and precisely in Filabusi where we conducted the research.”