The health of workers in Lao PDR was of key concern in the multi-sectoral consultation meeting to raise awareness on importance of banning chrysotile asbestos, and jointly finalise a National Action Plan to reduce and mitigate asbestos-related diseases in the country.
Relevant stakeholders from the government, non-government organizations and development partners participated actively in the discussion on how to protect the worker and stop the exposure. Urgent action is required to prevent the extended use of asbestos as a construction material and ban all forms of asbestos to protect lives, support safer economic growth and ensure social stability in the country.
Dr Juliet Fleischl, WHO Representative to Lao PDR said “All forms of asbestos can cause cancer in humans, and no threshold has been identified for the carcinogenic risks. This is the conclusion reached by experts from WHO and IARC following a series of authoritative international assessments conducted over a period of more than 15 years.”
This message was echoed by the Acting Deputy Head of Mission from the Australian Embassy, Mr Dominique Vigie that “Australia is still paying a heavy price after declaring chrysotile as a carcinogen in 1995; millions of dollars is spent removing asbestos from existing buildings.”
Currently, about 125 million people in the world are exposed to asbestos at the workplace. According to global estimates, at least 107 000 people die each year from asbestos-related lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis resulting from occupational exposures.
Mr Philip Hazelton, Campaign Coordinator for the elimination of asbestos-related diseases, Union Aid Abroad, APHEDA that supported Lao to develop the National Asbestos Profile showed that chrysotile asbestos is still being imported into Laos and used in the building industry; the amount of imported asbestos has been increasing year to year and it has reached over 8000 tons in 2013.
The national asbestos profile (APHEDA/MOCI 2017) concluded that Lao People’s Democratic Republic ranked highest among Asia-Pacific countries in terms of asbestos consumption per person. Increased usage has been most prominent in the Asia-Pacific region. Evidence continues to show that national burdens of asbestos-related diseases are directly proportional to national consumption of asbestos.
The “low cost” of asbestos containing products is often cited as a reason for the continued use of asbestos. However, future costs for compensation to industry workers and costs of removing asbestos related materials will be very substantial.
There are safer substitutes available and this is an opportunity for Laos and local companies to position themselves within the green industry to strive for a more sustainable pathway of growth by undertaking green public investments and implementing public health policy initiatives that encourage environmentally responsible private investments.
To date, more than 60 countries, including all member states of the European Union, have banned the use of all forms of asbestos, including chrysotile. Other countries have introduced less stringent restrictions.
Lao PDR will join these countries to protect their workers as they finalize the National Action Plan to eliminate asbestos-related diseases among workers to mark the International Labour Day.