Pesticide free food welcome, but change must be gradual - Toxicologist | Sunday Observer

Pesticide free food welcome, but change must be gradual - Toxicologist

18 July, 2021

The topic of organic food vs. synthetic foods is currently the hot issue of the day with President pledging to ensure that all Lankans get a toxic free diet as soon as possible.  Medi snips spoke to Poison expert Prof. Ravindra Fernando to spell out the adverse health impacts  synthetic foods on our bodies. This is what he had to say, 

 “All chemicals have some adverse effect on the body. Organic foods on the other hand, are those produced on farms that have not used most synthetic pesticides or fertiliser for three years before harvesting the food. They are thus much more beneficial for our health. He said Organic foods, often have more beneficial nutrients, such as antioxidants, than their conventionally-grown counterparts and people with allergies to foods, chemicals, or preservatives may find their symptoms lessen or go away when they eat only organic foods. “Just like vaccine, good food is also a key for the development of a strong immune system to fight against virus and bacteria,” he said.

To a question if there was a direct link to pesticide and herbicide laden foods in our diet with the steep rise in Non-communicable diseases, he said, “No direct link has been proved with these foods and non-communicable diseases.” 

 To an inquiry on whether the rise in kidney disease, especially kidney disease of unknown origin (KDu), which is increasing, could be related to chemical pollutants from water drinking sources, he said, “Again there is no scientific proof that KDu is related to chemical pollutants”.    

Lauding the government for launching this programme he however said that it was something that could not be done overnight. “There needs to be a significant buffer zone to decrease contamination from adjacent farm lands. Farms also have to be free from any genetic engineering, ionizing radiation or sewage sludge.  When one considers livestock, animals must be fed organic feed, live on organic land and be raised without routine antibiotics or hormones,” he pointed out.   

Commenting on setbacks he foresaw in implementing the program, especially with regard to educating the farmers, he said, “This is a problem. We have to educate farmers. At present, I can see that there is no proper plan to do this. The country cannot be expected to produce organic fertilisers suddenly for all crops, without prior preparation. For example, tea and rubber plantation regions do not have quantities of raw materials for converting into compost.” 

He reiterated that a toxic free organic food nation was commendable and long overdue and it was our duty as a nation to support it. 

Needed: Innovative ways to detect infants at risk of CP

Cerebral Palsy (CP) is the most common physical disability in children and it affects the movement and posture. The Sunday Observer asked Founder/ Chairman of the Cerebral Palsy Association in Sri Lanka Dr. Gopi Kitnasamy and Head of Rehabilitation Services, MJF Charitable Foundation to tell us briefly how this condition affects a child and how early intervention can  minimise resultant impairments, preserving cognitive function.

He said that this neurological disorder was  caused by a non-progressive brain injury or malformation that occurs while the child’s brain is still developing, adding that despite advances in medical science, many children in LMICs( Low Middle Income countries) only receive their diagnosis at the age of school entry, “missing a significant window of opportunity for improved outcomes”.  He further said that children with CP in these settings also face economic, geographical and social barriers to accessing medical and rehabilitation interventions. “In order to impact on the social inclusion and workforce productivity of individual with disability in these contexts, it is essential to first establish innovative, accessible and feasible means to detect infants at risk of CP and subsequently develop early intervention programs that are accessible for families of high-risk infants, that are cost-effective and can be widely delivered,” he emphasised.

To rehabilitate such children, Dr Kitnasamy said a family-centered or focused approach is considered the best practice in Paediatric rehabilitation. Asked why, he said, “This approach recognises that each family is unique, is the constant in a child’s life, and that parents are the experts on a child’s abilities and needs. Early diagnosis for CP hastens the onset of therapy and treatment, ultimately minimising resultant impairments, preserving cognitive function, and allowing time for the child and parents to adjust.  Unfortunately, diagnosis is often delayed for a variety of reasons,” he said.  

Asked if CP could be detected early using modern technology he said that it was possible to detect CP or high risk CP now accurately and early using a combination of standardised assessment tools like General Movements Assessment and HINE. Early detection enables timely early intervention when the greatest gains are possible from neuroplasticity. 

Late diagnosis means some infants do not receive early intervention when they would benefit most. It is not good practice to offer the conservative “wait and see” monitoring, when clear clinical diagnostic indicators exist, he noted adding that “Clinicians should understand the importance of prompt referral to diagnostic-specific early intervention to optimise infant motor and cognitive plasticity, prevent secondary complications, and to maximise caregiver well-being.”

Concluding on a positive note, he said the Sunday Observer that evidence has shown that commencement of cerebral palsy-specific early intervention before 6 months and the completion of the corticospinal tract, improves children’s motor and cognitive outcomes.

Rat fever rising following rainy weather, flooding

Health officials have warned all those working in high risk occupations and districts prone to flooding and heavy rains to exercise extreme caution to prevent being infected with the  Leptisirosis bacteria. They said that infected animals excrete leptospires into the environment via their urine. Most of the time, people get infected by leptospires in damp soil or surface water bodies through breaches of the skin or through mucus membranes.

In 2008, Sri Lanka reported the largest outbreak of leptospirosis with 7423 suspected case notifications and 204 deaths with an incidence rate of 35.7/100,000 population.

 Sri Lanka, with 28% of its growing population in the agriculture sector, has a reported annual case incidence of 5.4/100,000 population, mostly from the southern and north central regions where the disease is considered hyper-endemic. Also, seropositivity to leptospirosis has been shown in other occupational groups such as workers in coconut plantations and desiccated coconut mills, sugar cane workers, abattoir workers and fish market workers. An analysis of hospital based sentinel data from 2005 to 2008 showed that the majority of patients are men, aged 30–49 years, who were agricultural workers or labourers, and people who work in paddy fields and marshy/muddy land. However, there are also reports of outbreaks in affluent populations associated with recreational activities such as white water rafting suggesting a wider range of exposure risks.

Concerned Health officials  have said  that  leptospirosis incidence  in Sri Lanka is among the highest in the world. “It is a major public health problem of people and domestic animals in Sri Lanka ” they said. It  became a notifiable disease in 1991

A total of 3,134 cases of Leptispirosis have been reported islandwide from January to July this year.

Starting with 496 and 487 cases in January and February, the number rose sharply in March (792) and April (752) due to monsoonal rains and flooding.  However they plummeted in May (291) and June (127) but again with the onset of the monsoon and heavy flooding the  numbers have spiked. In less than half a month Epidemiology Unit has recorded 184 cases by July 11.

Health sources said they were conducting classes to educate farmers and those working in construction sites as well as gem mining to wear boots, cover their hands with gloves  and to abstain from going to the fields if they had any cuts or open wounds. Those with fever and severe headache or numbness of a limb should immediately see the nearest physicians and get tested, a health source told the Sunday Observer on grounds of anonymity. The source added that all MOH’s in the country especially in high risk areas have been asked to keep adequate stocks of Doxycycilin and advise farmers how to use them to prevent contracting the disease.