LONDON Following a visit by four experts to the Balkans last week, the World Health Organization has estimated that $20 million is needed for epidemiological research on DU during the next four years.
If the money were forthcoming, WHO says it would undertake "in-depth epidemiological and toxicological studies" into the possible health effects of depleted uranium (DU) — and other possible toxic materials used in warfare — in the Balkans and the Gulf.
Although experts' current thinking is that the risk from exposure to DU is low, information is insufficient for firm conclusions, WHO says. "Evidence on the incidence of cancers needs to be strengthened… to draw any epidemiological conclusions," says Xavier Leus, Director for the Emergency and Humanitarian Action Department of WHO. "There is also very little information on other possible risk factors for civilians and the military that may be equally important. We need to examine possible connections between risk factors and health outcomes."
WHO is asking for $2 million of the $20 million to be spent in the next six months to:
• strengthen WHO's epidemiological expertise to develop and conduct field surveys
• provide technical support and equipment as needed to strengthen national surveillance and registry of non-communicable diseases including cancers
• deploy toxicologists, radiation and chemical experts, together with equipment, supplies and easier access to international reference centres in support of national capacities for diagnosis and treatment of non-communicable diseases.