The Future of Preventing Silicosis

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On June 23rd GRAVIS organized a comprehensive day-long workshop on Silicosis in partnership with the United States-India Educational Foundation (USIEF). A series of expert speakers discussed the nuances of the disease and its effects while specifically focusing on prevention and intervention strategies. The presentations covered a range of topics, from the link between Silicosis and TB to the way the disease affects female mineworkers as well as the best ways to prevent the disease from developing. The day concluded with a round-table discussion where workshop participants shared experiences from the field and opinions regarding the most effective preventative strategies.

Silicosis—a debilitating and ultimately fatal respiratory disease caused by inhaling silica dust and irreversible scarring lung tissue—threatens the lives of roughly 300 thousands mineworkers living in Rajasthan. Those working in stone mines are especially at risk to the disease because their working conditions consistently expose them to high quantities of silica dust. Consequently, silicosis is the result of the mining industry’s failure to adequately protect the occupational health of its workers. Once developed, there is no cure for silicosis, and patients suffer from shortness of breath and eventually become unable to work due to the illness. Although many workers are aware of the negative health effects of the mining conditions, they do not have the agency to leave their job because there are no alternative employment opportunities. Furthermore, drought and water insecurity force many villagers—who generally depend on agriculture for their livelihoods—to work in the mines despite the threat to health.

For the past two decades GRAVIS has worked extensively with mining communities in the Jodhpur and Nagaur districts, and during this time, silicosis has been a major health concern and an important focus of the organization’s development work. To combat the disease, GRAVIS programming provides diagnostic and curative medical services to at risk community members and organizes awareness trainings for workers, employers, medical professionals and government agencies. GRAVIS also advocates for the occupational health safety of mineworkers in Rajasthan and has been an essential actor in securing workers’ compensation for patients who have been disabled because of their exposure to silica while working in the mines. Some of GRAVIS’s major achievements in the past 5 years include providing medical care to over 68,000 lung disease patients, organizing over 500 medical outreach camps and over 130 advocacy seminars, establishing a major rural hospital in the Thar along with 4 satellite clinics, and conducting 3 research studies on silicosis and tuberculosis (GRAVIS’s most recent report can be found here).

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