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Moving Towards an Asbestos-Free Asia

On September 6th and 7th, 2015, Vietnam Ban Asbestos Network (VN-BAN) in collaboration with Asia Ban Asbestos Network (A-BAN) held a conference themed “Asbestos-free Asia towards Global Ban”. The conference is part of the Annual Conference 2015, which was held by A-BAN and The Asian Network for the Rights of Occupational and Environmental Victims (ANROEV) from 4th to 7th of September, 2015 in Hanoi.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), asbestos is the leading cause of occupational diseases such as lung cancer, mesothelioma cancer, lung fibrosis, pneumoconiosis. Each year, the world has more than 107,000 people deaths and 1.5 million people suffering from diseases related to asbestos. Currently, Asia and the Middle East are regions with highest asbestos consumption in the world. Statistics show that at least 85% (around 2 million tons) of asbestos has been consumed in the area each year.

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Victims and experts from South Korea sharing in the meeting

The conference was attended by 100 participants, including 60 international delegates from 18 countries and 5 international organizations, representatives of the World Health Organization (WHO) and International Labor Organization (ILO).

The conference has three discussing sessions at the hall and one morning field visit to a roofing manufactory in Hai Duong where they have two production lines that use and do not use asbestos. Twelve reports were divided into three topics: (1) Updating the status of the world and Asia based on scientific evidence and activities towards asbestos ban globally; (2) Sharing experiences between Asian countries; (3) Discussing joint action for the common objectives for asbestos-free Asia.

Vietnam representative, Ms. Luong Mai Anh, Deputy Director of Health Environment Management shared the achievements and challenges in the process to prohibit the use of white asbestos in Vietnam as recommended by WHO and an action plan to eliminate asbestos-related disease in Vietnam for the period 2015-2030 in cooperation with WHO, ILO, and the Organization of the People in health, education and development Overseas Australia (APHEDA).

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Ms. Luong Mai Anh, Deputy Director of Health Environment Management sharing at the meeting

At the opening ceremony, the world’s leading experts in the harmful effects of asbestos, Prof/PhD. Ken Takahashi, Director of WHO Collaboration Centre for Occupational Health at the University of Occupational and Environmental Health, Japan, concluded “The world’s scientists unanimously consider asbestos a threat to global health… each country should adopt specific strategies in solving global health problems including multilateral collaboration, information sharing on both the national and international level with the participation of activists, researchers, managers and social organizations.”

Mr Sugio Furuya, coordinator of A-BAN, has synthesized and updated the activities for the prevention of the bad effects from asbestos in Asia, and recognized challenges, successes and lessons learnt for future advocacy movements. Accordingly, in the process of achieving the target “for a non-asbestos Asia”, countries are divided into 4 groups, A, B, C, D, based on strategic criteria actions of government, community and awareness of asbestos victims. Group A consists of countries that have achieved the target through the issuance of legislation on banning asbestos legislation, including Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Nepal. Vietnam is in group B, together with Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines, and Indonesian, which has not yet introduced law against the use of asbestos, although the country has declared the prohibited level of asbestos usage. Group C has advocacy activities to ban asbestos but no prohibited level. Group D has not had a kick-off yet.

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Discussion for regional strategy planning – South Asia region

According to Mrs. Mai Anh Luong, “Public awareness about the harmful effects of asbestos is very limited, and products containing asbestos are currently not labeled with health warnings.”

At the final session of the conference, Dr. Do Quoc Quang from the Institute of Technology, the Ministry of Trade and Industry, made a presentation on alternative materials for asbestos fibers in the world as well as technologies to produce no asbestos roofing in Vietnam. He showed that alternative technologies were available in Vietnam from over 10 years with inexpensive initial investment on technologies transfer. Products are produced using the alternative technologies only about 13% difference in cost, comparing with fibro cement roofing.

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Dr. Do Quoc Quang sharing about alternative materials for asbestos fibers

Ending the conference, Mr Furuya Sugio said “This is the most successful conference ever” and “Vietnam may become bright spot to share practical experiences on the role of civil society organizations in banning asbestos advocacy and the success in cooperation with the Ministry of Health, the National Assembly and the media agencies in building and eliminating asbestos diseases. Countries such as India, Nepal, and Laos requested Vietnam to share free asbestos roofing technology.

The participants have recognized the importance of developing a joint action strategy in Asia and the need for increased communication to raise community awareness in different countries, and of performing pollution monitoring along with that in each country. After this conference, another regional meeting on asbestos in Vietnam will be held next year to promote joint activities towards COP8 Rotterdam Conference in Geneva, Switzerland in 2017.