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UZBEKISTAN: Focus on cancer prevalence in the Ferghana Valley

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

FERGHANA, 18 Apr 2005 (IRIN) - Sultanbai Tukhliev, a resident of the Altyaryk district in the eastern Uzbek province of Ferghana, suffers from cancer of the kidney. Currently undergoing medical treatment at the provincial cancer hospital, Sultanbai told IRIN that he became aware of his disease rather late.

"First I paid no attention to my poor health and only when I was seriously ill, did I go to see the doctor. I was taken to the Altyaryk district hospital, but I did not feel any better there," he said. "Then I was sent to this hospital, where they operated on me after a physical examination. I am expecting another operation. I admit I ignored my health and thought only about my collective farm and here is the result I have."


Sultanbai's wife, Inoyat, pointed out that a number of medical facilities could not precisely diagnose her husband’s disease, which resulted in losing valuable time and the disease spread.

"Both the district hospital and the emergency unit treated him for everything but cancer. Only when the state of my husband’s health sharply worsened, did they send him to this place. We were told we had lost about two months. My husband had to suffer so much anguish! If doctors in our district had been a bit more competent, perhaps, it could have been possible to have cured my husband," Inoyat told IRIN.

Risolat Kasymova, another patient aged 63, recalled her second bout of cancer. "About four years ago, I was operated on in this hospital. I had a genital tumour, but now I don’t know what I have this time. Today I will have another operation," she told IRIN.

Such cases are not unusual in the densely populated Uzbek part of the valley, comprising the three provinces of Andijan, Ferghana and Namangan, where about 6,000 people are diagnosed with cancer every year. According to Uzbek oncologists, there are 74 cancer patients per 100,000 people in the region. In the Ferghana province alone, there were over 12,000 patients living with oncological diseases.


Experts cite environmental pollution as a key factor contributing to the growth in cancer cases in the region. The local Armon environmental advocacy group said in its recent report the region was one of the worst affected in terms of environmental pollution, following extensive oil extraction and mining in the area, as well as the large-scale use of pesticides and other harmful fertilisers. Almost 1 million mt of methane gas is burnt and released into the air in Ferghana by local industrial plants every year, the group said.

Ismail Mallabaev, a worker with the Ferghana petroleum refinery, echoed that view. "The refinery releases substance into the atmosphere, which are harmful for health, for example, hydrocarbon and hydrogen sulphide. We live in an industrial zone. All local plants release harmful elements into the air, which we breathe in," he told IRIN.

"Earlier, in Soviet times, we were given a half a litre of milk every day. But now, we receive it once a week and not regularly. Nobody checks anything, nobody cares. Harmful emissions from industries poison not only human organisms, but also the soil by way of sediments. We don’t need to wonder why we have so many people with diseases, especially with oncological ones,” Ismail asserted.


Meanwhile, Zulfiya Islambekova, head of the cancer hospital in Ferghana city, attributes the prevalence of disease to a reduction in natural food products. "Poor ecology and consumption of products cultivated with extensive use of chemicals can lead to cancer. A human body does not tolerate ecologically 'dirty' foodstuffs," she said.

Civic groups active in the region say the growth of cancer is linked to environmental pollution and extensive cotton cultivation. "The climate in Ferghana valley changes very fast. To a certain extent, chemical enterprises, which pollute the air, water and soil are to blame. Also cotton cultivation harms the structure of soil and water," Mutabar Tajibaeva, head of the Otyuraklar Club (Club of Burning Hearts), a local NGO, told IRIN.

"Cotton seeds, which contain chemicals, are used as raw material for oil production, which is harmful for people’s health," a local expert who did not want to be identified told IRIN.


Still another issue was a lack of awareness among the local population about cancer. "People are very inattentive to themselves. They usually go to the doctor only when they feel very bad, while doctors recommend undergoing a physical examination once a year, particularly for women. They tend to end up at a doctor only when numerous complications start and tissue begins decaying. Certainly, we cannot provide any help for advanced forms of cancer,” Islambekova said.

There are also some local peculiarities that contribute to the growth in cancer. One of them is the dietary and nutrition habits of the local people. "In Andijan province, oesophagus cancer is the most common form. It is possible to explain this - local people consume tea too hot. Hot tea burns the walls of the oesophagus, sores appear on them, which cannot be cured under home-based conditions," Valery Bogdasarov, chief doctor at the oncological clinic in Andijan city, capital of the province of the same name, told IRIN.

Another dietary aspect is that local people mainly use poor quality cotton oil for cooking, while some reports say that food cooked on stoves using overheated oil can be carcinogenic. "The local population traditionally uses poorly purified cotton oil. Heated oil is not suitable for reuse, however this rule is not observed at restaurants and in many households. As a result, oesophagus cancer is spread among people every year," Bogdasarov explained.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), some 5.3 million people die annually in the world from cancer. About 100 years ago, there was one cancer patient per 30 people, while for the last 50 years, that ratio has stood at two cancer patients per every 15 people.


 Theme(s) Environment
Other recent UZBEKISTAN reports:

UN rights experts question Andijan trial,  27/Oct/05

Arrest of moderate opposition leader politically motivated - rights groups,  25/Oct/05

Media development NGO folds,  13/Oct/05

Residents mute five months after mass killings,  13/Oct/05

Rights activists welcome EU sanctions,  4/Oct/05

Other recent Environment reports:

BURUNDI: Dropping water level threatens port of Bujumbura, 27/Oct/05

NIGERIA: World's broken electronics pile up in Lagos, creating toxic dumps, 27/Oct/05

SENEGAL: Flood victims play the waiting game, 27/Oct/05

TANZANIA: One million residents to gain from Lake Victoria project, 26/Oct/05

GUINEA-BISSAU: Stockpiles gone but landmines a continued threat, 26/Oct/05

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