Expedition to the highest city in the world

Posted by Anita Froneman on 24 October 2019

La Rinconada in Peru is the highest city in the world, situated at a staggering 5,300 metres above sea level, and aptly referred to as Hypoxia City.

Hypoxia occurs when the body’s tissue is deprived of adequate oxygen, which can lead to liver, heart and brain damage.

La Rinconada is a gold mining town, with only 70,000 inhabitants, and many who work there hope to strike it lucky. However, a great many residents suffer from health threats due to the lack of oxygen, including chronic mountain sickness.

 

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For the first time ever, a team of researchers called Expedition 5300 have gone to the mountain town to search for ways to treat the illness and to learn more about some people’s genetic ability to tolerate the altitude. They hope that their research may help to prevent mountain sickness completely.

Up until now, the only known way to battle altitude sickness is to physically go down to a lower altitude until you recover. For many of these miners, that’s not an option.

Expedition 5300 has been launched to study the effects of prolonged exposure to severely low oxygen levels on the human body. A laboratory has been set up in the Peruvian town to carry out high-level scientific and medical assessments.

The scientists are led by physiologist and mountain enthusiast Samuel Vergès of the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM) in Grenoble.

‘Our research team is working with a Peruvian doctor living close to La Rinconada who is providing care. Together, we will organize the first scientific and medical expedition to this unique city during the winter of 2019,’ Expedition 5300 said on their official site before embarking.

‘For the first time, two groups of people of La Rinconada with and without signs of hypoxia intolerance and chronic mountain sickness will be evaluated precisely from their genetic profile to the quality of their sleep and their ability in physical effort, through to their haematological, cardiovascular and cerebral features.’

‘To carry out such assessments, a real laboratory of human physiology and biology will be transported and installed in the heart of the city of La Rinconada for several weeks with more than a dozen European scientific and medical experts carrying out scientific and medical high-level evaluations.’

According to ScienceMag, many Peruvian mines are operated by large international companies, but gold mining in La Rinconada is ‘informal,’ or even illegal. The health and safety of the miners are not the employers’ top priority.

‘There is no safety mechanism in place,’ says César Ipenza, a Lima-based environmental lawyer, to ScienceMag. For a full article about the research conducted by Expedition 5300, read here.

Image: Instagram

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