UN issues landmark health report on Chernobyl: excess cancer cases, deaths

Chernobyl nuclear accident site

18 April 2006 – Some 5,000 people who were children and adolescents at the time of the world’s worst-ever civil nuclear accident at Chernobyl, Ukraine, have so far been diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and there may be up to 9,000 excess cancer deaths, according to a new United Nations study, the most comprehensive scientific report so far on the health impact of the disaster.

As the world prepares to mark the 20th anniversary of the accident on April 26, the landmark report issued the UN World Health Organization (WHO) recommends renewed efforts to provide the public and key professionals with accurate information about the health impact as part of the efforts to revitalize the people and areas affected.

“As we work to rebuild futures, we must not forget the families of those who died as a result of the accident, and those who continue to suffer the consequences of radiation exposure and the severe disruption of their lives,” WHO Director-General Lee Jong-wook said of the report, which covers contaminated regions in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, home to more than 5 million people.

“The WHO report on the health effects of Chernobyl gives the most affected countries, and their people, the information they need to be able to make vital public health decisions as they continue to rebuild their communities. WHO is supporting these efforts.”

The agency is continuing its efforts to improve health care for affected populations through the establishment of telemedicine and educational programmes, and supporting research.

After the accident 116,000 people were evacuated from the area. An additional 230,000 people were relocated from the highly contaminated areas in subsequent years.

Relocation proved a deeply traumatic experience because of disruption to social networks and the impossibility of returning home. For many people, there has been a social stigma associated with being an “exposed person,” the report notes.

Those who were affected came to be labelled as “Chernobyl victims.” Despite government compensation and benefits for evacuees and residents, some people perceive themselves as victims rather than survivors, with limited control over their own futures.

Many of these people have demonstrated higher anxiety levels, multiple unexplained physical symptoms and subjective poor health compared to non-exposed populations.

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