Rwanda: How Risky Are Cell Phones to Your Child’s Health?

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[This article is extracted from AllAfrica.]

A fancy toy in the eyes of a child comes in form of a gadget. That makes their excitement cell phone, cell phone and more cell phones. Even if you made it a gigantic tablet, as long as that your one-year-old love sees your lifting it to your ears whenever it rings, they will want to imitate you.

But imitating on a non-ringing cell phone and giving that baby the gadget to “talk to aunt so-and-so-never mind that they would never understand a thing-are two different thing. One is innocent and harmless, the other foolhardy and a health risk, at least, going by what experts say.

Cell phone usage has exploded in Rwanda in the past five years. According to the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda, 45.2 per cent of households had at least one cell phone in 2011, up from 6.2 per cent in 2006.

In the City of Kigali, 79.6 per cent of households had a cell phone in 2011.

Children are growing up in a sea of radio-frequency radiation that has never existed in human history.

Increasingly, scientists and policymakers in tech-savvy nations are concerned that the ways these devices are used imperil the brain, according to a paediatric agency, Healthy Child.

The iPhone plastic baby rattle case protects the phone’s glass screen from cracking when chomped on by teething babies, but does not protect the infant’s young brain from the phone’s pulsed digital microwave radiation, the agency says.

This proliferation of wireless gadgets overlooks a critical health issue for pregnant women, men who wish to father healthy children, and children themselves: non-ionising or microwave radiation damages the brain and sperm of experimental animals.

So it’s not really a question of whether or not your teenager will eventually want a cell phone, but when. This when could be before children are in their teens-just around the time they abandon diapers.

Giving your child a cell phone exposes them to radiation and risk of cancer. Some health professionals have raised concerns that cell phone usage could be linked to cancer of the brain, nerves or neck, although studies remain inconclusive on the connection between the radio waves emitted by cell phones and cancer, according to the US Cancer Institute.

Cell phones emit radiofrequency energy (also known as “radio waves”) that is a harmless form of radiation called non-ionising radiation. It’s the same kind of radiation that is emitted from a microwave.

The second kind of radiation, ionising radiation, is known for increasing the risk of cancer. X-ray machines, cosmic rays and radon emit this type of radiation.

The US Cancer Institute says it is generally accepted that a person’s DNA must be changed in order to cause cancer. There has been no evidence that non-ionising radiation causes damage to a person’s DNA.

Long-term effects uncertain:

Although current studies have not shown a strong connection between cancer and non-ionising radiation, it is still too early to know what long-term health effects cell phones may have on people.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer, an agency of the World Health Organisation, says cell phones may possibly be carcinogenic to humans based on limited evidence from studies of both humans and rodents.

Cell phones have not been around long enough to conclusively rule out the possibility of developing brain cancer, said Dr EA Nkusi, a Kigali-based neurosurgeon.

Dr Nkusi is of the view that it is not good for a child to spend a long time in front of a microwave or on the phone.

“Their nervous system is still developing and it’s not good to subject a child to that,” he says.

Because their nervous system is still developing, children are more vulnerable to all kinds of cancers. And since their heads are smaller, they theoretically have proportionally more exposure to radiation.

As father himself, Dr Nkusi says he prefers his children use the speakerphone or Skype when making longer calls to family.

Dr Rachna Pande, an internal medicine specialist at Ruhengeri Hospital, says children are at risk because of the long-term exposure they will have to cell phones.

An unnecessary distraction:

Dr Pande says there are other health concerns surrounding children and cell phones that have nothing to do with cancer.

Cell phones have been linked to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and lack of concentration in children, she says.

A two-year Korean study of 2,400 elementary school children, published in 2013, found that those who played games on cell phones were more likely to exhibit signs of attention deficit hyperactive disorder than those who did not.

Schools in the country have attempted to respond to the distractions posed by cell phones by banning the use of the gadgets.

“There is no need for a student to have a phone at school since it is not a school requirement. If indeed one needs a phone, the school can always provide an alternative,” Dr Mathias Harebamungu, the minister of state in charge of primary and secondary education, told The New Times in June last year.

Dr Pande also says cell phones have been linked to infertility later in life.

A 2007 Polish study of 304 men found that the quality of sperm declined as cell phone usage increased.

Cell phones have also been linked to chronic pain from the repetitive typing and vision loss problems due to the small screen size.

Dr Pande says parents should not encourage their children to use a cell phone.

“The best way to avoid these problems is to stop children from using cell phones. They should be allowed to use them only during an emergency,” she says.


The cell phone and your health:

There have been several studies and there are still more out there, trying to pinpoint the relationship between cell phone use and health. But most of these have been inconclusive.

Studies have found several inconsistencies with other studies that have suggested a link between heavy phone use and brain cancer.

For instance, one study found that cancer occurred on the opposite side of the brain, rather than on the same side, of where a cell phone was customarily used.

“It is difficult to define a level of risk, if any, especially as mobile phone technology is constantly evolving,” the study said.

“The rapid evolution of technology has led to a considerable increase in the use of mobile phones and a parallel decrease of (radio wave intensity) emitted by the phones.

“Studies taking account of these recent developments and allowing the observation of potential long-term effects will be needed.”

Leonard Kayonde, the director of cancer unit at Rwanda Biomedical Centre, admitted that there is a possibility of cell phones causing brain cancer since they emit radiations.

He added that debate is still on going on the time span of exposure that puts one at risk of brain cancer.

Pacifique Mugenzi, an oncologist with Rwanda Military Hospital, Kanombe, expressed doubts, saying many such studies only show assumptions rather than real evidence of a link between cell phone use and brain cancer.

Additional reporting by Ivan Ngoboka

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