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Alarming spike in new cancer patients in Sri Lanka amidst aflatoxin fears in foodstuffs

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by Suresh Perera

In the backdrop of concerns expressed by medical experts over ingesting foodstuffs with carcinogenic aflatoxins, Sri Lanka has witnessed a disturbing spike in cancer with 33,226 fresh cases on the basis of 89 new patients per day reported in 2019.

The number of cancer-related mortalities during the year under review was 16,691 with 46 patients dying of the dreaded disease per day, according to new statistics.

“There were 75,909 prevalent cases of cancer in Sri Lanka’, the Health Ministry’s National Cancer Control Program (NCCP), said.

Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) account for almost 83% of total deaths in the country and the proportional mortality due to cancer is estimated to be 14%, it said.

“Newly detected cancer cases have shot up from a moderate 13,372 in 2005 to more than 30,000 in 2019”, says NCCP’s Acting Director, Dr. Janaki Vidanapathirana.

“There has been a steady surge in new cancer cases over the past 14 years”, she said.

Medical experts contend that aflatoxins (a family of toxins produced by certain fungi found on agricultural crops such as maize (corn), peanuts, cottonseed, and tree nuts) in the human system can cause a carcinogenic reaction over a period of time.

Director-General of the Sri Lanka Standards Institution (SLSI), Dr. Siddika Senaratne’s recent assertion that, apart from imported coconut oil, certain other consumables also contained aflatoxins, triggered a controversy over the safe consumption of certain foodstuffs.

Amidst public fears over products identified on social media platforms, rightly or wrongly, the critical question that emerged was for how long people had been consuming such foodstuffs and whether they continue to do so despite the claimed carcinogenic substances in them.

There was confusion in the public mind as Dr. Senaratne declined to identify the contaminated products saying that naming them will reflect adversely on the trade.

“They should be given time to remedy the shortcomings”, she said.

Asked whether the presence of aflatoxin in imported coconut oil, as discovered recently, and possibly other foodstuffs could have contributed towards the exponential increase in the incidence of cancer in the country, Dr. Vidanapathirana said that exposure to any aflatoxin will increase the risk of cancer, but it depends on the duration and the quantum ingested.

There are usually 800-850 new liver cancer cases per year caused mainly due to alcohol consumption, tobacco smoking, hepatitis b and c and aflatoxins. Cancer is of multifactorial origin. Tobacco causes 15 types of cancers in the human body, while alcohol accounts for five types, the Consultant Community Physician explained.

Leading the list of top 10 cancers in Sri Lanka amongst males was mouth, lip and tongue cancer at 14% in 2019 followed by trachea, bronchus and lung (9%), colorectal (8%) oesophagus (7%), prostate (7%), larynx (4%), bladder (4%), lymphoma (4%), thyroid (3%) and others (40%).

Amongst females, breast cancer topped the list at 26% followed by thyroid (13%), colorectal (7%), ovary (6%), oesophagus (5%), uterus (4%), ovary (6%) trachea, bronchus and lung (3%), lymphoma (3%), oral (3%) and others (25%).

Oral cancer in Sri Lanka remains the highest in the world, Dr. Vidanapathirana said, while stressing that a structured program of action to arrest the alarming trend is the need of the hour.

Cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the body. Cancer develops when the body’s normal control mechanism stops working. Old cells do not die and instead grow out of control, forming new, abnormal cells. These extra cells may form a mass of tissue, called a tumor. Some cancers, such as leukemia, do not form tumors.

“Cancer can be prevented through early detection”, she noted, while warning that obesity, tobacco smoking, alcohol consumption and physical inactivity have been identified as some of the primary causes that lead to the dreaded disease.

Asked whether consumption of milk activates dormant cancer cells, she replied “I don’t know. There’s no such evidence”

However, the intake of dairy milk is associated with a greater risk of breast cancer in women, according to a new study conducted by researchers at Loma Linda University Health.

Dairy, soy and risk of breast cancer: Those confounded milks, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, found that even relatively moderate amounts of dairy milk consumption can increase women’s risk of breast cancer — up to 80% depending on the amount consumed.

First author of the paper, Gary E. Fraser, MBChB, PhD, said the observational study gives “fairly strong evidence that either dairy milk or some other factor closely related to drinking dairy milk is a cause of breast cancer in women, the ScienceDaily reported in 2020. (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/02/200225101323.htm)



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Death threats won’t deter us – EC Chairman

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Nimal Punchihewa (Chairman ECSL) picture by PRIYAN DE SILVA
Chairman of the Election Commission of Sri Lanka Nimal Punchihewa told The Island that members of  the election commission won’t be deterred by death threats.
He said that members of the commission  M M Mohamed,  K P P Pathirana and S B Diwarathne have been repeatedly threatened and the police have not been able to apprehend the perpetrators.
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Three people dead after torrential rain in New Zealand

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At least three people have died due to flash flodding in Auckland (picture BBC)

BBC reported that at least three people have died and one is missing after New Zealand’s largest city experienced its “wettest day on record” on Friday.

Auckland is said to have received 75% of its usual summer rainfall in just 15 hours.

A local state of emergency was declared as authorities managed evacuations and widespread flooding.

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Chris Hipkins thanked emergency services for their swift response to the disaster.The new prime minister travelled to Auckland, where he also expressed his condolences to the loved ones of those who died in the floods.

“The loss of life underscores the sheer scale of this weather event and how quickly it turned tragic”, he said in a news conference on Saturday afternoon.

The downpour flooded the airport, shifted houses and resulted in power cuts to homes for hours.

New Zealand’s defence forces were mobilised to assist with evacuations and emergency shelters were set up across the city.

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Parliament prorogued on Friday night

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President says cabinet agreeable to fully implementing 13 A until party leaders decide whether or not to abolish the Amendment

Parliament was prorogued from midnight Friday (27) by President Ranil Wickremesinghe under powers vested in him by Article 70 of the Constitution, parliamentary sources said on Friday.

The Department of Government Printing was due to issue the relevant notification on Friday night but it was not out as this edition went to print.However the President’ Media Division (PMD) confirmed the prorogation on Friday evening saying that President Wickremesinghe “is expected” to make a policy statement based on the decisions taken after the 75th Independence anniversary when parliament recommences on Feb.8.

A separate bulletin said that the president had informed the party leaders Conference on Reconciliation that the cabinet was agreeable to “fully implementing (the) 13th Amendment until party leaders decide whether or not to abolish the Amendment.”

Parliamentary sources explained that a prorogation which is a temporary recess of parliament, should not extend to a period of more than two months, However, such date for summoning parliament may be advanced by another presidential proclamation provided it is summoned for a date not less than three days from the date of such fresh proclamation.

Political observers believe that the prorogation is related to the president’s effort to secure as wide a consensus as possible on the National Question. They dismissed speculation that it is related to the scheduled local elections. This issue was clarified by the PMD bulletin.

When parliament is prorogued, the proclamation should notify the date of the commencement of the new session of parliament under Article 70 of the Constitution.During the prorogation the speaker continues to function and MPs retain their membership of the legislature even though they do not attend meetings of the House.

The effect of a prorogation is to suspend all current business before the House and all proceedings pending at the time are quashed except impeachments.A Bill, motion or question of the same substance cannot be introduced for a second time during the same session. However, it could be carried forward at a subsequent session after a prorogation.

“All matters which having been duly brought before parliament, have not been disposed of at the time of the prorogation, may be proceeded with during the next session,” states the paragraph (4) of article 70 of the constitution.

In the light of this constitutional provision, a prorogation does not result in an end to pending business. Thus, a pending matter may be proceeded with from that stage onwards after the commencement of the new session.

At the beginning of a new session all items of business which were in the order paper need to be re-listed, if it is desired to continue with them.At the end of a prorogation a new session begins and is ceremonially declared open by the president.

He is empowered under the constitution to make a statement of government policy at the commencement of each session of parliament and to preside at ceremonial sittings of parliament in terms of the provisions of paragraph (2) of article 33 of the constitution.The president is empowered to make a statement of government policy at the commencement of each new session. In the past, it was known as the Throne Speech which was delivered by the Governor-General.

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