11 November 2011

Nigeria: Lead Poisoning Continues to Affect Many in Country - UN

At least 43 villages in Nigeria continue to present cases of lead poisoning, 18 months ago after cases were first discovered in the region, the United Nations reported today, calling for an increase in preventive measures in the African country.

The World Health Organization (WHO), which has been assisting the Government in managing the situation, called for Nigerian authorities to increase their commitment to combat lead poisoning by strengthening its capacity to diagnose, treat and manage it, as well as ensuring that all areas have been de-contaminated.

In a news release, WHO warned that lead poisoning cannot be successfully eliminated without significant changes to mining practices, including the relocation of ore processing activities and storage of ore materials away from villages.

Other necessary measures recommended by WHO include the adoption of processing methods that produce less dust, and hygiene measures such as removing contaminated clothes and washing before returning home.

Lead poisoning damages the nervous system and causes brain and blood disorders. Treatment is time-consuming and expensive as it involves undergoing long-term therapy with chelating agents, which remove heavy metals from the body.

Treatment also involves persuading people to adopt new practices and behaviours, something which requires an ongoing effort from authorities to continuously raise awareness and make sure the population follows preventive measures.

According to WHO, children in seven villages in Zamfara state require chelation therapy. This is in addition to the residents of seven other villages who have already received treatment. In these villages the combined effects of removing children from lead exposure and providing chelation therapy caused the child mortality rate to drop from 43 per cent to 1 per cent in one year.

Since the problem was discovered last year, $1.9 million has been provided by the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to WHO and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), which have been used to provide treatment, train doctors, provide quick diagnoses, and raise awareness about the hazards of lead.

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