MALAWI PALADIN: A former employee, who suffered a fractured thigh bone while on duty at Kayelekera Uranium Mine and eventually got retrenched earlier this year, is suffering from cancer.
Cancer expert Dr Leo Masamba, speaking after seeking permission from Mwaiwathu Private Hospital where the former employee, Francis Mkonda, was treated for the condition, confirmed the development in a brief e-mail response.
“This man has a cancer. I have said this because he allowed me to share this information, but I can’t comment beyond this,” said Masamba, citing ethical grounds.
Mkonda said he sustained the fracture on his right thigh bone while on duty on January 17 and was retrenched while in hospital receiving treatment on January 24, 2013. He was made to sign acknowledging receipt of the retrenchment letter while on his hospital bed on January 29, 2013.
He was referred to Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre on April 11. While in Blantyre, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) conducted on him revealed that even his left thigh was fractured.
Later, he was referred to Mwaiwathu Private Hospital where he struggled to take care of his guardian son, James, saying he had exhausted money he received after being retrenched. Currently, Mkonda is admitted to Chitipa District Hospital after being forced out of Mwaiwathu due to his inability to settle hospital bills.
Mkonda said in an interview with The Sunday Times on June 14 that he joined Kayelekera Mine, operated by Paladin Africa Limited, on October 23, 2010 with no case of painful legs.
He said he worked at the setting point – where uranium ore is sent through tanks of acid and peroxide to separate it from the other chemicals – in the processing plant.
Mkonda said he started feeling leg pains in 2012. MRI conducted on his lumbar spine by consultant radiologist Dr Kampondeni on December 28, 2012 left the impression of “diffuse marrow replacement and diffuse spondylosis from L2-3 to L5-S1, with moderate spiral stenosis at L4-5 and irritation of the right L4 nerve root”.
Speaking on issues of radiation and cancers generally, Francis Mserembo – who worked as Senior Radiation Safety Advisor at Kayelekera Mine – said uranium radiation has potential to cause cancers because it is ionising, meaning it strips away particles.
He said ionising radiation causes damage by, among other things, breaking important chemical bonds and producing free radicals, which are “extremely reactive ions in the body that interrupt normal function and cause cellular and tissue damage when they react with biological pathways”.
He added that the radiation also causes damage by creating new, harmful, chemical bonds between macromolecules that would otherwise not occur and directly damaging molecules like Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and Ribonucleic acid (RNA) which are responsible for normal cellular function.
Paladin Energy Limited General Manager for International Affairs Greg Walker has maintained in several interviews that radiation doses workers at the mine are exposed to are far much lower than international recommendations.
However, he has not disclosed how much the Kayelekera dosage is. He also dispelled suggestions that Mkonda’s situation is a result of exposure toradioactive substances.
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