Action Mesothelioma Day 2015
As bright sunshine blanketed the UK on July 3, 2015, asbestos victims support groups around the country highlighted the consequences of a silent epidemic which is taking up to 5,000 lives every year. During the 21st century, tens of thousands of people have died from mesothelioma, one type of asbestos cancer; unfortunately, the UK has the highest age-adjusted mesothelioma mortality in the world. People representing the asbestos dead took part in public rallies, conferences, information sessions and memorial services on July 3 Action Mesothelioma Day to make manifest the nationwide scale of the countrys asbestos catastrophe.
The theme for events organized on Action Mesothelioma Day 2015 (AMD) by groups which are members of the Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK was Mesothelioma: Hope for the Future?
Welcoming delegates to Asbestos Support West Midlands AMD2015 in the council chamber of the Birmingham Town Hall, Chairperson Yvonne Washbourne reminded us that the corruption and collusion of British employers were key factors in the tragedies affecting so many families. Employers, she said, put profit before lives. It is high time the government made funding available to find a cure.
Exposure to asbestos has caused the UKs worst occupational disease epidemic; the same is true for Australia, which has the worlds second highest mesothelioma mortality. It was therefore fitting that the keynote speaker of the day was Dr. Gregory Deleuil, a general practitioner who has, over his 40+ year medical career, treated thousands of mesothelioma patients in Western Australia. With his Australian twang and affable manner, Dr. Deleuil discussed his personal involvement with asbestos. It all began on Christmas Eve 1974, when Cyclone Tracy wiped out his home town of Darwin, in Australias Northern Territory. In the aftermath of the storm, 40,000+ people were forced to relocate; they included the doctor and his family who moved to Perth, the capital of Western Australia.
By happenstance, the location of Dr. Deleuils new surgery in Perth, his specialist lung testing equipment and knowledge of diving medicine brought him to the attention of Robert Vojakovic, the President of the Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia (ADSA). The rest, as they say, is history.
It was astounding to hear of the pioneering role taken by the Australian Government in devising, implementing and supporting a targeted medical research strategy for finding new treatments and possible cures for asbestos-related diseases. While successive UK governments have watched the death toll mount, the Australian authorities set up a National Center for Asbestos-Related Diseases and an Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency both of which work collaboratively with stakeholders to develop solutions to minimize and eventually eliminate the threat posed by asbestos.
During a musical interlude the Birmingham Clarion Singers premiered a song especially written for AMD2015 entitled Asbestos. The lyrics were poignant:
They drove the railways; they built our homes
They made the dust and carved the boarding from the killer stone.
They fired the boilers; they created steam
But no one told them of the harm that lay within
Weve come a long way in 40 years
But the damage done to working people will not disappear
The pain they suffer, their shortened lives
So those who caused this hurt must surely pay the price
Lets join our voices, shout loud and clear
Well make out call to ban asbestos from every which and where
Stop its production; see it no more mined
Just leave that stone unprocessed for the rest of time
Following the prayer and reflection by the Reverend Peter Skellick, the next speaker Laurie Kazan-Allen addressed the subject: Mesothelioma: Hope for the Future? Although there was not yet a magic bullet to cure mesothelioma, there were definitely green shoots of hope that can be observed dotting the global mesothelioma landscape. These consisted of improvements in controlling symptoms, research being progressed on targeted therapies and immunotherapy and the holding in 2016 of the International Mesothelioma Interest Group biennial meeting in Birmingham!
Upon the conclusion of the indoor program, participants adjourned to Chamberlain Square for the dove release and the opportunity to show solidarity with asbestos victims in other countries.
In Liverpool, the days program had also been tailored to focus on Hope for the Future. Dr. Helen Clayson shocked participants when she showed a graph illustrating the paucity of UK funding which had been provided for mesothelioma research.
Commenting on the reaction of the meeting to the huge disconnect between the prevalence of the disease and the levels of research support it attracted, Dr. Clayson said:
It was clear that people felt much more should be done to fund mesothelioma research. There is no excuse for the government to delay now that we are beginning to see real progress in research, particularly into new and targeted individualised treatments. Dr. Dean Fennell stated recently that in his opinion mesothelioma research is now where lung cancer research was 10 years ago. There has been major improvement in the outcomes for lung cancer patients in the last decade but this will only happen in mesothelioma if research funding increases.
Throughout the UK, groups in other asbestos hotspots held events, some high profile, others more intimate. Explaining the importance of AMD, John Flanagan, one of the organizers of the Liverpool event, said:
Once a year we come together as a community of asbestos victims, family members and campaigners to show the public face of this national disgrace. People take solace in knowing not only that others share their loss but also that people are working in the UK and abroad on medical research to end the suffering. AMD is a unique day in the asbestos calendar and it is one to which the Liverpool and other asbestos victims groups are deeply committed.
Liverpool: Merseyside Asbestos Victims Support Group.
Manchester: Greater Manchester Asbestos Victims Support Group (Enlarge image).
Sheffield: Sheffield and Rotherham Asbestos Group.
Portsmouth: Hampshire Asbestos Support & Awareness Group.
Leeds: June Hancock Mesothelioma Research Fund, Mesothelioma Support Yorkshire and Mesothelioma and Related Concerns (Enlarge image).
Newcastle: Mick Knighton Mesothelioma Research Fund and Gateshead Councillors (Enlarge image).
Leicester: Mesothelioma UK and Derbyshire Asbestos Support Team.
Cardiff: Asbestos Awareness Support Cymru.
AMD2015 was the tenth national mesothelioma day. As the epidemic continues, it looks likely there will be many more such days before a cure for this deadly disease has been found.
July 9, 2015.