• Search
    Latest News
  • Professor Benach meets Government and Hassans

    Professor Joan Benach, acclaimed public health scientist and principal author of the “Atlas of Mortality”, was in Gibraltar on Tuesday. Recognising the importance of Professor Benach’s work, the ESG invited him here and arranged for meetings to discuss his work and its implications with both Government ministries and with Hassans.

    In the morning, the Barcelona-based scientist met with Minister for Health, Ernest Britto and Minister for the Environment, Jaime Netto, who were accompanied by various representatives from their respective ministries. Organised as a private meeting the Professor Benach discussed his public health studies and their implications. He explained how his extensive studies reveal that Cadiz province is home to a strikingly large cluster of excess mortality – basically, people are generally dying earlier and more “unexpected” deaths in this province than in the rest of Spain. These findings, explains Professor Benach, are indicative of a “public health crisis” in the region. He went on to detail how, within Cadiz, the Bay of Gibraltar is particularly bad. The ministers showed interest in the extensive detail of the Professor’s work.

    In the afternoon a series of working meetings and presentations were arranged for the Professor. At Hassans, the local law firm that has supported the ESG’s work since its inception as a group, Janet Howitt used the gathering as an opportunity to raise awareness of the ESG’s work amongst the Partners, giving a presentation, in collaboration with David Dumas QC, which focused on the process that has been made with respect to legal proceedings with the European Commission.

    The Professor then gave a more detailed delivery to the partners of his extensive studies on mortality. From his perspective, the Professor made it clear that the clusters shown by his studies presents a very complex problem to understand, and it will be “extremely difficult” to establish the causes of this crisis. However, among the risk factors that could potentially be contributing to this public health crisis, social, occupational and environmental factors are suspected to be the most important. Given the high clustering of heavy industries in Cadiz generally and in our Bay particularly, the Professor believes it is likely that environmental pollution has a role to play in this crisis. If this is so, then it is logical to think that Gibraltar might be exposed, certainly to some degree, to this same environmental risk, given that we live so close by and breathe much the same air. Professor Benach tried to communicate the need to better understand if there is “something going on here (in Gibraltar) as well”.

    Environmental and health NGO’s on both sides of the border have been asking for an epidemiological study of the Bay area to be done without further delay. The Professor is in agreement. The Professor was very adamant that a necessary step in the process of understanding the crisis (and setting up the necessary in-depth multidisciplinary investigations) is to set up systems that collect good, high quality and useful data. Once this data has been collected, it would have to be interpreted with great skill and attention.

    However, on the question of waiting for results of such a study the Professor believes that there is other work to be done in the meantime. This was also part of the emphasis that he gave to his afternoon presentation, when he presented his work to a group of Partners in Hassans. He explained how the persistence of environmental problems shows that laws, administrative, and local interventions do not by themselves lead to elimination of these problems. He emphasises the need for all these concerned parties to try to work together on addressing the problem.

    Given the gravity of the public health crisis detailed by Professor Benach and the fact that environmental hazards are highlighted as being among the principal risk factors, the ESG is adamant that a precautionary approach should be taken towards potential risk factors (such as air pollution) and engage in proactive action wherever this is possible. In this light, Professor Benach is very complimentary of the Bay Bucket Brigade, which he cites as an example of such community-empowered, proactive action, which can only help towards better understanding the public health crisis existing in our Bay.