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Pac Health Dialog. 2002 Sep;9(2):275-82.

Health transitions, fast and nasty: the case of Marshallese exposure to nuclear radiation.

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Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand.


The concept of health transitions assumes that health status improves with the introduction of western medicine. In this paper I demonstrate that the health of the people of Rongelap, Marshall Islands, has undergone serious damage as a result of nuclear testing, and that women in particular have suffered unduly. Exposure to nuclear radiation over a period of almost fifty years has been recognised by US authorities as a major contributory cause to the high rates of cancers and birth defects suffered by the Rongelap people. Women's reproduction has been severely affected, as evidenced by the many stillbirths and small stature of children born alive. Two generations have been exposed to both background radiation and to radiation ingested with the local foods on which they rely in the absence of other food sources. Clean up has commenced only after this and other communities sought compensation from the United States. The Rongelap people will live with the effects of radiation for generations to come. This transition to ongoing health problems is thus a negative outcome of modern health transition.

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