8 January 2013

Nigeria: Lead Poisoning - Causes, Effects and Remedy

In recent times, deaths arising from lead poisoning have continued to pose a great challenge to health experts.

Experts are concerned about the recent UN report that more than 400 children in Zamfara died from complications arising from lead poisoning.

They are even more worried about an aspect of the report which indicated that more than 18,000 Nigerians were believed to be at risk of contracting lead poisoning.

Their anxiety is also reinforced by a media report which revealed that lead poison was discovered during an annual immunisation programme in Zamfara when visiting doctors realised that children in some areas of the state were dying in unusually large numbers.

What then are the causes of this lead poisoning? Medical experts say that lead poisoning could be caused by informal gold mining in lead contaminated areas.

In rather simple terms, lead poisoning is a medical condition caused by increased levels of metal lead in the body. While poison interferes with a variety of body processes; it is also toxic to many organs and tissues, including the heart, bones, intestines, kidneys as well as reproductive and nervous systems.

However, the general belief is that the poison gets into these organs through polluted air, water, soil, food and consumer products, while the symptoms of the illness manifest themselves in abdominal pains, headache and irritability, among others.

Medical experts say that in severe cases, lead poisoning could result in coma and subsequent death of the victim. In view of its mode of spread and other effects, concerned citizens, therefore, express concern about illegal gold mining activities and inappropriate mineral ore processing techniques of the local miners.

Irked by the development, Alhaji Musa Mohammed Sada, the Minister of Mines and Steel Development, immediately directed that measures should be taken to protect the people's lives in the mining areas. He said that the Federal Government had decided to formalise the operations of the artisanal miners, apart from the provision of 15 water boreholes and medical facilities in hospitals across Zamfara State.

Sada, however, warned the public against illegal gold mining, stressing that the health implications associated with it were very grievous. Besides, the minister urged artisanal miners in state to organise themselves into mining cooperatives, as part of strategies that could enable them to get grants from the government.

He bemoaned the alleged complicity of local authorities in encouraging illegal gold mining, saying that efforts would be made to discuss with appropriate local authorities on ways of curbing the menace. To prevent the recurrence of lead poisoning, Sada said that the government had embarked on an enlightenment campaign to sensitise the people to the dangers of illegal mining activities.

In a renewed effort to tackle the menace of illegal mining activities in Zamfara, the Federal Government recently set up an eight-man panel to probe the death of nine illegal miners at Dogon Daji village in Maru Local Government Area of the state.

The minister said that the panel was set up in line with the provisions of Section 85 of the Nigerian Minerals and Mining Act of 2007. Sada said that he had information that the persons died while mining gold illegally at the site. He stressed that since the citizens' lives were precious to the government, it would no longer condone unwarranted loss of lives through illegal mining operations.

He also said that the ministry had issued a suspension order on mining activities in Zamfara State until further notice. Sada said that due to the prevalence of illegal mining activities across the country, the Federal Government would establish some minerals procurement centres which would not require the issuance of mineral titles.

He recently gave the assurance when he recently received a delegation of Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) or Doctors without Borders in Abuja.

While commending the MSF for its efforts to control the effects of lead poisoning in the country, the minister, however, noted that more than 10,000 affected persons at Njega village in Zamfara had received medical treatment.

In his remarks, Ivan Gayton, the Conference Coordinator of the MSF, solicited collaboration between his organisation and the Federal Government in efforts to prevent lead poisoning. He stressed that lead poisoning could be avoided via the adoption of safe mining procedures. Gayton said that the MSF had treated more than 2,500 victims of lead poisoning in Zamfara State, adding that not less than 1,500 children were expected to be treated.

The Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, however, attributed the growing menace of lead poisoning to the continuous activities of illegal miners in the some villages in Zamfara.

Addressing a news conference in Abuja recently, the minister called for the adoption of safer mining practices by miners in the areas so as to reduce human exposure to lead contamination. Commenting on the lead poisoning, the Emir of Gusau, Alhaji Mohammed Danbaba, called for an active collaboration among all stakeholders in the health sector in efforts rid Zamfara State of the menace of lead poisoning.

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