More research into a cure for asbestos cancer is desperately needed, writes GRAHAM DRING
PEOPLE will gather in cities around Britain today to commemorate those who have lost their lives to the asbestos cancer, mesothelioma.
Sufferers, bereaved family members, trade unionists and campaigners will release doves as an act of remembrance for loved ones and colleagues who have lost their lives to this preventable disease. Local MPs will address rallies to pledge their support for the ongoing fight for justice for mesothelioma victims.
Action Mesothelioma Day was first inaugurated in 2006. It aims to raise awareness of mesothelioma, to fight for improved compensation for victims and to campaign for funding research for a cure and better treatments.
Mesothelioma is often described as the “British disease” because Britain has the highest incidence in the world. The only known cause is asbestos exposure. Asbestos was used extensively in this country after the second world war, particularly in heavy industry and construction, and this explains why our figures are so high. But this is not the whole explanation.
Employers putting profits before lives, decades after the dangers were well known, and political inaction and even collusion are also to blame. Workers and their families were needlessly exposed. Many have now developed this fatal disease just because they went out to work to provide for their families.
This epidemic could have been avoided if the lives and health of ordinary people had been considered important.
Although asbestos was finally banned here in 1999, the dangers have not disappeared. Many public buildings contain asbestos.
The National Union of Teachers estimates that 86 per cent of schools contain asbestos, putting teachers and pupils at risk. Victim support groups have seen increasing numbers of ex-teachers and other school staff referred to them for advice. We desperately need a comprehensive eradication programme to get asbestos out of our buildings to prevent more exposures, and more cases of mesothelioma.
Unfortunately for many, getting asbestos out of our workplaces and homes will come too late. The seed may already have been sown because of past exposure. Mesothelioma usually takes decades to develop following exposure, and predictions of when the epidemic might peak are being pushed back. The latest figures, for 2013, from the Health and Safety Executive show there were more than 2,500 people newly diagnosed for the second year in a row — seven new cases a day.
Mesothelioma sufferers need, above all, more effective treatments and a cure for this disease rather than to be told that nothing can be done. Huge advances have been made in survival rates for many cancers. These cancers have often received far greater research funding than the pitiful amounts allocated to mesothelioma research — surely a contributory reason for such improvements.
Who knows how far down the road to finding a cure for mesothelioma we would be now if similar research funding had been made available. Researchers in this area are confident that significant breakthroughs are close. But, as ever, sustainable and sufficient funding is needed to make these breakthroughs a reality.
Mesothelioma victims have already been let down through the negligence of their employers and inaction by past governments. It is high time the government rectified this injustice by making sure funding is made available to find a cure. Mesothelioma victims are not asking for sympathy, they are asking for simple justice.
Graham Dring is writing on behalf of Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK.
For details of events happening around the country, visit the Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK website at www.asbestosforum.org.uk.