Friday, 3 June 2011

Fact of the Day: Cancer is China's No. 1 Killer

There are depressing figures coming out of China. The Chinese Ministry of Health data says cancer is the cause of death in one-quarter of all deaths in the countryside.
 
While the Chinese government may have lifted millions of its people out of poverty, they are now paying the price for rapid development.
 
There are reports from the countryside revealing the epidemic of "cancer villages" linked to pollution due to mostly heavy industries.
 
Lung cancer is the most common, surging almost five times since the 1970s. Major cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou have particulates in the air four times higher than New York City, where almost 30 percent of cancer deaths are from lung cancer. Meanwhile in the countryside the problem is because of coal burning, which is responsible for 70 percent of soot emissions -- carcinogens, sulfur dioxide and mercury.
 
And then there is smoking -- over half of China's adult male population smoke, resulting in one in 10 of 1 million Chinese who die of smoking-related diseases including second-hand smoke.
 
Other than lung cancer, liver and stomach cancer each account for 20 percent of deaths in the countryside. Liver cancer is three times likely to kill a Chinese farmer than the average global citizen. This is because cancers are linked to polluted water or dangerous chemicals that have leeched into the soil and ground water. Government data shows half of China's rivers, and more than three out of four lakes and reservoirs are too polluted for safe drinking, even after treatment. But people still drink the water because that's all they have or can afford.
 
Geographer Lee Liu did an analysis in Environment magazine in 2010. He found some 450 cancer villages that were usually in very poor areas near polluted waterways or downstream from industrial parks. In some cases Liu observed "the death rate is higher than the birth rate and is rising rapidly", and it's not because of an aging population.
 
Huangmengying village in Henan Province is one of the worst Liu documented, as it is located by the heavily polluted Huai river that is practically black. Some 80 percent of the village's young people are chronically ill, with one-year-olds getting diagnosed for cancer.
 
Another bleak picture thanks to the severe pollution in China is the rise of birth defects in the country. Of the 1 million children born with birth defects every year, some 20 to 30 percent may be treated, but 40 percent will have permanent disabilities. The remainder die shortly after birth.
 
Defects, due to things like excessively high levels of mercury in the blood lead to impairing cognitive and nervous system development, stunt growth and have low IQs. With China's one-child policy, many precious children are hardly given a better chance at life than their parents.  
 
What is China going to do about this? Currently it is sacrificing the health of its citizens and risking its future prosperity.

How is China going to reach its supposed superpower status when too many people are too sick to be productive?

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