Researchers are going to investigate how extreme sun exposure affects general health and HIV/Aids among South Africans, an expert said.
"Little attention has been paid to the human health impacts of sun exposure, specifically solar ultraviolet (UV) radiation exposure and appropriate measures to prevent them in South Africa," said Caradee Wright, of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).
"The CSIR has many unanswered questions in this area of research, especially in Africa among different ethnic groups, for example the implications for HIV and Aids."
The aim of the research
Wright is attached to the natural resources and the environment section of the CSIR, where the research programme was launched in Pretoria.
With the main effects of solar UV radiation being skin cancers, ocular diseases and immune suppression, the research programme aimed to discover unfamiliar diseases and how to prevent them among South Africans.
The launch began with a seminar, where researchers and other interested parties could share their interests, knowledge and problems. Cape Town University lecturer Lester Davids, whose research focuses on the use of skin as a model to understand underlying biological mechanisms of skin cancers, discussed the state of skin cancer in South Africa.
He said with South Africa second to Australia when it came to skin cancer, it was important for dark-skinned people to start caring for and protecting their skins.
Melanoma and darker skin
"I think it’s something that we need to address, particularly in this country, that the incidence of melanoma in people with darker skins is on the increase, because people feel that with a darker skin they are inherently more protected and don't need sunscreen or some other form of protection."
He said he was sure there were hundreds more South Africans who were dying from skin cancer besides the reported 700 a year.
Katlego Ncongwane of the SA Weather Services said data showed South Africa was experiencing increased solar radiation.
"There has been an abrupt increase of solar radiation in the past decade," she said. She could not quantify the increase, but said it was placing South Africans at a high risk of chronic sun exposure.
The sun and your eyes
Optometrist Mark Nagle said it was vital for people to be educated on factors which resulted in blindness, including the dangers of UV exposure.
"Cataract is the leading cause of blindness in South Africa and is responsible for about 50% of the prevalence of blindness – and this should be regarded as a national priority," said Nagle.
Wright said the research programme would investigate the effects of exposure to solar UV radiation across all population groups.
(Sapa, May 2012)