Public Service Announcement: Is your mobile phone killing you?

A recent report by the Kenya ICT Board through the Communication Communications of Kenya (CCK) indicated an upward trend in mobile subscriptions between April 1 and July 31, 2012.

Subscriptions rose from 28.08 million to 29.6 million, representing an increase of four percent in the period and 15.9 percent relative to the same period in the previous year.

The Kenya ICT Board described the increase as “an indication of operator’s determination to continue growing their subscriber base through tactful marketing approaches as a strategy toward customer acquisition.”

The statistics are good news for mobile network service providers in Kenya, with the promise of more profits.

There is, however, one negative implication.

If mobile penetration keeps increasing, people will be more prone to electromagnetic radiation from the handsets and the tower-based antennas that carry the signals.

According to Sue Kovach in ‘The Hidden Dangers of Cell Phone Radiation,’ there are more than two billion cellphone users being exposed every day to the dangers of Electromagnetic Radiation (EMR). Exposure to EMR is growing and becoming a serious health threat, with studies linking it to the development of brain tumours, genetic damage and other exposure-related conditions.

Kovach says that “the cell phone industry is fully aware of the dangers”.

Even Kenya’s Ministry of Information and Communications permanent secretary Dr. Bitange Ndemo has been on record describing the rapid growth of the telecommunications industry as a potential environmental and health hazard.

According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), cellphones emit radiofrequency energy which can be absorbed by tissues closest to where the phone is held, although there is no consistent link between mobile phone use and cancers of the brain, nerves or other tissues of the head or neck.

This is a problem relevant to Kenya, with it reasonable to speculate that by next year the country will have reached a mobile penetration of 100 percent. 89.1 percent of the population currently have access to mobile services, compared to 84.5 per cent recorded in the same period of the previous year, a 4.6 percent increase.

Some preventive measures are being taken to avoid health risks associated with mobiles.

The CCK has a signed agreement with the Radiation Protection Board under the Ministry of Public Health to address the challenges. Currently, rural surveys are being carried out on Base Transmitter Stations and other communication infrastructure in Kenya. Yet there has yet to be a definitive public awareness programme warning individuals of the dangers associated with cellphone use.

NCI proposes that the use of cellphones should be reserved for shorter conversations or for times when a landline phone is not available, adding that we should also use a hands-free device, which places more distance between the phone and the head of the user.

Another possible alternative is for both mobile phone manufacturers and service providers to learn something from cigarette companies, who indicate the health implications of their products to users: “smoking is harmful to your health”.

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