The escalation of cancer cases offers a moment to reflect on how we handle our environment.
Cancer is caused by changes to certain genes that alter cell functioning. These changes either occur naturally or due to environmental exposures to cancer-causing substances (commonly called carcinogenic agents). We can do almost nothing about the former but we can do something about the latter. We can keep our environment clean.
Research has already pointed at a strong correlation between lifestyle issues like smoking, alcohol and sedentary lives and cancer.
In the same breath, our environment must be healthy for the inhabitants to be healthy. So the question that comes to mind is: How do we care for our environment? This may be the basic thing that we need to revisit as humanity to curb the cancer menace.
Where does our environment come in? A clean environment is therapeutic – a reason doctors prescribe coastal holidays for those diagnosed with depression and stress-related conditions. The environment is the very foundation of life. The food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe are all products of our environment.
The wholesomeness of these products is determined by the health of the environment. The health of the environment is determined by the human activities on the globe and this is where environment and human health meet. When the environment is sick, there is no way the inhabitants will be well. We must bear this at the back of our minds in our human endeavours.
We must be cognisant of the environment. We must be alive to the fact that a sick environment means a sick humanity and that is where we seem to be headed to with each passing day.
We pollute our rivers with raw sewerage and heavy metal toxic waste. Oblivious that downstream someone will farm with this polluted water and we shall buy the vegetables for consumption. We dirty our cities through improper waste disposal; this waste rises and pollutes the very air we breathe. Even as it is government’s responsibility to clean these cities, we too have a role to play.
That is how Kigali managed to achieve its cleanness. You can be sure that this single action has greatly reduced diseases in that city. We should be concerned about the state of our cities as they concentrate large populations of people in relatively small spaces. This, if not well managed, has a negative effect on air quality. Exhaust fumes from diesel engines have been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as carcinogenic.
Heavy city traffic and diesel engines serve as potential sources of environmental pollutants, which county governments must regulate to limit the amount of smoke spewed into the environment.
Smoking is currently the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Unfortunately, we can get exposed to carcinogens from smokers through second-hand exposure. Kenya already has a Tobacco Control Act, whose spirit is to control the public against the effects of Tobacco smoking. However, the government cannot control all behaviours that predispose populations to lifestyle conditions. Until such a time when a panacea is developed, it is upon us to do our bit.
Dr Tuimur is the CAS in the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries