It is a truth that every disaster harbors seeds of new learning. The
Chernobyl disaster is a case in point. After a chain reaction in the
nuclear plant blew off the reactors lid in 1986, huge amounts of
radioactive materials were released into the atmosphere. These materials
were deposited mainly over countries in Europe, but especially Belarus,
the Russian Federation and Ukraine. Radioactive iodine was deposited in
pastures eaten by cows who then concentrated it in their milk which was
subsequently drunk by children. A general iodine deficiency in the area
exacerbated radioactive iodine accumulation in the thyroid. Since
radioactive iodine is short lived, if people had stopped giving locally
supplied contaminated milk to children for a few months following the
accident, it is likely that most of the increase in radiation-induced
thyroid cancer would not have resulted. In Belarus, the Russian Federation
and Ukraine nearly 5 000 cases of thyroid cancer have now been diagnosed
to date among children who were aged up to 18 years at the time of the
Now breakthrough research from Germany has identified a
unique genetic signature of radiation induced papillary carcinoma.
Scientists from the Radiation Cytogenetics Unit of the Helmholtz Zentrums
München, in collaboration with the Imperial College London, studied the
carefully stored samples of thyroid cancers from children exposed to the
radioiodine fallout from the Chernobyl nuclear reactor explosion. The team
compared the genetic information from these tumors to that found in the
same type of tumor that arose in children born more than one year after
the explosion, after the radioactive iodine had decayed away. The number
of copies of a small fragment of chromosome 7 (band 7q11) was found to be
increased only in the tumors from the irradiated children, establishing
this as one of the first genetic markers that indicate a radiation
etiology of cancer.
It is commendable that thyroid cancers will probably
not happen in Fukushima, Japan because as per emergency plan, people were
promptly evacuated and supplied stable iodine (The Hindu 16 June 2011,
Statistics is the grammar of science, and health
statistics the barometer of social and human development. The latest
statistics of the Sample Registration System (SRS) was recently released
by C Chandramouli, the Registrar General of India and Census Commissioner.
The SRS is the largest demographic survey in the country covering about
1.4 million households and 7.01 million populations in 7597 sample units
across 35 States/UTs.
The National Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) has declined 3
points from 53 in 2008 to 50. Madhya Pradesh is last on the scoreboard
with an IMR of 67 while Kerala with 12, Tamil Nadu 28, Maharashtra 31,
Delhi 33 and West Bengal 33 are at or almost at the Millennium Development
Goal (MDG) of 28 by 2015.
The Under 5 Mortality Rate (U5MR) has also declined 5
points from 69 in 2008 to 64. Again Madhya Pradesh has the worst numbers
(89) while Kerala (14), Tamil Nadu (33), Maharashtra (36), Delhi (37) and
West Bengal (40) have already achieved the MDG target (42 by 2015).
The Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR) has shown an
impressive fall form 254 (2004-2006) to 212 (2007-2009).The worst
performers UP, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar (which have been clubbed together as
the Empowered Action Group) and Assam have also shown a 18% decline from
375 to 308. Kerala with an MMR of 81, Tamil Nadu (97) and Maharashtra
(104) have attained the MDG of 109 by 2015.
The only statistic to show no change has been the total
fertility rate (average number of children born to a woman) which remains
unchanged at 2.6 (The Hindu 8 July 2011, w ww.censusindia.gov.in/vital_