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[DODOMA] The Tanzanian government has advised parents to limit their children's exposure to mobile phones, because of continued uncertainty over the health effects.

Tanzania has more than 800,000 mobile-phone users at present, about 2.5 per cent of the population. The deputy minister, Maua Daftari, told the Tanzanian parliament last week that it was wise to take precautions with their use, even though there is no evidence that mobile phones have negative effects on human health.

In particular, she advised parents to reduce the time that their children spend talking on mobile phones, and recommended the use of hands-free devices to avoid the phone being close to the head.

But given that scientific evidence in this area is still uncertain, some members of parliament disagreed with Daftari's advice. Two of them, Zahor Hamis and Damas Nakei, challenged speculation that mobile phones can cause brain tumours.

Both the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) are currently conducting scientific research on mobile phones. And Daftari admitted that research to date indicates that the energy produced by a mobile phone — between 0.2 to 0.6 watts — is too little to affect the brain, she said, adding that walkie-talkies produce 10 watts or more without appearing to cause adverse side effects.

She also said that people living near mobile-phone base stations could not be affected by the radio waves, as antennas are fixed 15 to 50 metres above ground level. The waves they emit are too thin to harm anyone at ground level, said the deputy minister, and are directed upwards anyway.

Nevertheless, given the continued scientific uncertainty in this area, she said that Tanzanian government was advising caution. She added that the government is closely following the WHO and ITU research, and will announce steps to be taken by the public if the need arises.

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