Two Belfast men have begun a support group for people suffering from asbestos-related diseases.
Arthur Rafferty and Brendan Whyte launched ASNI (Asbestos Support Northern Ireland) after Arthur found a lack of information when he was diagnosed with asbestosis, caused by inhaling deadly asbestos dust.
North Belfast man Arthur contracted the disease over years spent working in the shipyard. He says five doctors failed to diagnose the condition and he had to travel to Liverpool to have it confirmed.
“Throughout England, Scotland and Wales there are a number of asbestos support groups, yet in Northern Ireland there are none,” said Arthur.
“We hope to raise awareness, offer support and act as a life line to those who feel isolated as they have no one to turn to.”
ASNI has won the support of a number of politicians who are helping them obtain funds so they can expand the service.
“We are here to help a large number of people who, to date, have nowhere to turn to,” added Arthur.
There are several diseases associated with asbestos exposure; although not all of them are fatal they all affect the health and quality of life of those who suffer from them. All ARDs are preventable if the right precautions are taken when handling this deadly material, but due to lack of information and poor management people continue to suffer.
Through ASNI, Arthur and Brendan are advising sufferers about state benefits associated with asbestos related diseases, helping them complete paperwork, helping with representation at DSS tribunals.
They have a drop-in centre for people who have been affected by an asbestos-related disease, to speak with someone who truly understands.
People who are too ill to come to them can avail of their home call out service.
The charity is also campaigning and fundraising for research into mesothelioma a deadly cancer that attacks the lining of the lungs, heart or abdomen and is almost exclusively caused by exposure to asbestos.
They even aim to provide a respite service aimed at helping those who suffer due to an ARD take a weekend break and relax.
They are in the process of setting up an online community in which people can share stories and advice.