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UJ Geologists explore interdisciplinary research on geology and human health

​Medical Geology has seen an important growth in some parts of the world during the recent years. However, in Africa, this field is still not yet well developed although it is in Africa that the application of research in this field would be most relevant.

These were the sentiments shared by Prof Hassina Mouri, UJ’s Associate Professor: Department of Geology who introduced medical geology and its relevance in Africa at the 2nd International Symposium on Medical Geology in Africa (ISMGAf-2), on 5-7 November 2018, in Auckland Park Kingsway Campus.

According to Prof Mouri, “The African continent is characterised by a very complex and dynamic geological history including frequent earthquakes, volcanic activities in tectonically active regions, pervasive dust, water toxicity due to interaction with the geological environment etc. All these naturally occurring processes and materials could have short and long term impact on humans and animals health.”

“The situation on the African continent can be aggravated by the fact that most of the population live in rural areas, thus rely mostly on groundwater and locally produced food grown from soil that can be either enriched in “hidden” toxic elements or deficient from essential elements required for a healthy diet,” explained Prof Hassina.

The manifold issues dealt with at the conference Included: Air, Soil, Water Pollution & Quality; Minerals & Environment; Environmental Toxicology & Epidemiology; Biominerals & Biomaterials and Risk Assessment & Communication in Medical Geology.

“From a health point of view, a large number of population on the continent suffer from serious health issues such as thyroid disorder, asthma, cardio-vascular diseases, cancer, neurological disorders etc. for which the causes are still unknown in most of the cases,” said Prof Mouri. “Thus, considering the significance of such health problems on the continent and the importance of the natural geological process and factors, which can be the leading cause, we strongly believe that it is necessary to develop medical geology through research collaborative projects and training of a new generation of young researchers in Africa”.

Also speaking was Prof Kim Dowling, who spoke on medical geology on a Dynamic Planet, focusing on Prosperity, Poisons and Providence. Prof Dowling emphasised that complex connections between environment, health and populations are seen globally. “Geographic Information Systems and pathology which has established links between toxins and health, has facilitated positive intervention”.

Prof Dowling explained that Australia has been populated by humans for more than 50,000 years and this population affected substantial environmental change that accelerated dramatically with European colonization and the Gold Rush in Victoria in the early 1850’s. “The results of the wealth generation of this time can be seen in the art, literature and architecture that remain. The effects on the indigenous population of this activity are less well represented and remains under reported the results for the geochemical landscape is also less obvious, although equally important and illustrates the need for a deep systemic understanding of the geochemical processes at both a local and global scale,” she said.

The ISMGAf2 event is designed to share the most recent information and findings on the relationship between the impacts of geological processes, toxic metals, trace elements, natural dust and minerals, on environmental quality and public health. The aim was to provide a platform for discussion and an opportunity to learn more about new developments in the field of Medical Geology, understand and seek possible solutions for some serious health issues, which can be caused by the geological process/materials on the African continent especially.

The congress concluded that in a region where rural communities are still largely dependent on water and food sources that are locally derived, the above setting provides an attractive opportunity for studying the influence of geochemical factors on the distribution of diseases in man and animals. This pursuit constitutes a large part of the study of the rapidly emerging science of “medical geology”.

Prof Hassina Mouri
Prof Hassina Mouri
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