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Oil Pipeline: Experts Worried of A Flare-up in Lung Disease :: Uganda Radionetwork
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Oil Pipeline: Experts Worried of A Flare-up in Lung Disease

Dr Charles Ayume the Chairperson of the Parliamentary Health Committee said that the flaring that comes with oil extraction will lead to lung complications which need ready solutions provided by a well-prepared and involved workforce. He says that the Makerere University Lung Institute should already be spearheading these discussions with the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development but this is not yet happening.
Prof Bruce Kirenga, the Makerere University Lung Institute Executive Director at the symposium

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Experts have expressed concern that the respiratory disease burden will increase with the construction of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline.

Speaking at the second Lung Science and Health symposium on Thursday, Dr Charles Ayume the Chairperson of the Parliamentary Health Committee said flaring that comes with oil extraction will lead to lung complications which need ready solutions provided by a well-prepared and involved workforce. He says that the Makerere University Lung Institute should already be spearheading these discussions with the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development but this is not yet happening.

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The doctor was speaking after researchers at the institute shared findings from a study in which a group of 100 artisanal miners were followed up at Mulago National Referral Hospital and the majority were found to have severe lung damage four years after they stopped working in that environment.

According to Prof William Worodria a lung expert at the hospital, 93% had simple silicosis, a type of pulmonary fibrosis, a lung disease caused by breathing in tiny bits of silica at the beginning of the follow-up.  Four years later, 40% still had continued lung damage even as they were not working any more.

Experts say this could get worse with the anticipated oil extraction and yet after falling ill, sufferers may require expensive life-long treatment with oxygen.

Worodria says countering this problem of exposure at the workplace and prevention of likely diseases in the future requires a multi-sectoral collaboration between different sectors to enforce safety regulations and do surveillance instead of waiting to finally send sick people to the already overwhelmed health sector.

When these issues were put to officials in the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, they acknowledged the problem but added that they are constrained to conduct the requisite enforcement in the mining sector due to their limited numbers.

They revealed that the directorate of labour has only 22 occupational health officers for the 23.5million working population.

Usher Wilson Owere the Chairman General of the National Organisation of Trade Unions (NOTU) highlighted the need for an independent Ministry of Labour saying that even if lung health researchers have gathered a lot of data to show evidence for the high and increasing burden of lung disease, no one will implement their recommendations.

Owere said that the mushrooming mineral resources require that there is inspection for the safety of the workers involved.

Prof Bruce Kirenga who heads the Lung Institute says they are already seeing a shift in the clinics from seeing the majority of Tuberculosis cases to Lung cancer and silicosis.

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Meanwhile, authorities target commercial oil production by 2026. The 1400km pipeline will transport oil produced from Uganda's Lake Albert oilfields to a Tanzanian port bound for world markets.  

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