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Medical group cites 2,000 deaths a year

By Maureen Gerawa

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, Feb. 11, 2009) – Papua New Guinea’s favourite chew, the betelnut, is killing at least 2,000 people a year and is responsible for many health problems, according to the PNG Medical Society.

The medical society yesterday called for the chewing and selling of betelnut to be regulated.

Medical Society president Dr Mathias Sapuri said that Papua New Guineans must be made aware of the health hazards caused by betelnut chewing.

Dr Sapuri said every year a lot of Papua New Guineans were dying from diseases such as mouth cancer, poor oral hygiene, cancer of the throat, gastritis (inflammation of the stomach), peptic ulcers (sores in the stomach) and inflammation of the gums.

He said these were diseases caused by betelnut chewing while rubbish from betelnut dumped around urban centres such as Port Moresby was contributing to diseases such as tuberculosis.

The betelnut spits, he said, were also polluting the streets.

"Betelnut chewing is a major health issue. Our statistics show that mouth cancer is killing almost 2000 Papua New Guineans every year,’’ says Dr Sapuri.

He says mouth cancer, which is killing both women and men, is like all other cancers and cannot be treated in PNG unless people report early signs, something which is rare.

He urged policy makers, but particularly the Health Department to regulate chewing and selling of betelnut so that people should not chew in public places like offices, public motor vehicles, schools and health facilities.

Similarly, he said the sale of betelnut should be in proper places where they should be controlled. "By regulating it, people will

take their betelnut and chew it at home,’’ he said. He said the PNG Medical Society commended the NCD Governor Powes Parkop and the National Capital District Commission administration for imposing a ban on betelnut sales in public places in Port Moresby but they needed support.

"If people argue that chewing of betelnut is a traditional practice, let them take their betelnut to the village. The problem is that this practice is a cause of many health problems. It also has no nutritional value,’’ he said.

"After a person gets one to two minutes of kick (from chewing betelnut), it is over and he has wasted his money buying it.’’

Dr Sapuri said the sale of vegetables and other good food should be promoted as these foods develop the body rather than the sale

of betelnut and smoke, which were common commodities sold on the streets of Port Moresby.

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