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