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Lead Poisoning: 5,500 children treated in Zamfara, Niger states

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…damages to health irreversible

 By Gabriel Ewepu

OVER 5, 500 children who survived lead poisoning in Zamfara and Niger states have been treated by a Dutch international development agency, Medecins Sans Frontieres, MSN, also called Doctors without Borders.

This was disclosed by the Deputy Head of Mission, MSN, Nigeria, Dr. SimbaTirima, while speaking on the efforts made by MSN to contain lead poisoning in Zamfara and Niger States.

Tirima said the millions of Euros have been spent on treatment and medications to sustain the lives of the children for the past seven years, and they will continue with massive public education on prevention.

He said: “In late 2010, an unprecedented outbreak of lead poisoning was discovered in Zamfara State, in about three months, 400 or more children have died of this poisoning and nobody knew what this issue was until the investigations were done.

“But even after the investigation was done, there wasn’t any organisation in the world that was equipped at the time to deal with the large number of people like this.

“So MSN, as an emergency medical organization, took on the treatment of all those children and we have been treating them with Eculation treatment, a drug that helps expel lead from the body.

“What the treatment does is that it expedites the removal of lead from the blood to prevent further damage. If the damage has occurred, some of the damages are irreversible. So we have been treating children in Zamfara State since June 2010 and currently we have treated about 5,500 children. Now in 2015 the same problem was discovered again.”

However, he said that the treatment does not equate cure, once the lead poison causes the damage in the body system, especially for young people, it cannot be reversed and affects the nervous system is for a lifetime despite treatment.

“Loss of IQ, damages to the kidneys, future problems with hypertension. In fact, one thing we know is that there is a direct link between violent criminal behaviour in early childhood to that exposure, and if lead poisoning does not kill a child, most likely the damages that will occur to the nervous system, to the brain, to your organs may be lifelong”, he stated.

On the preventive measures, he said the MSF has engaged a partner who deals with industry and occupational hygiene, and have started small safer pilot scheme in Niger State and planning to start about two or three pilots in Zamfara State to help the miners at that local level to build capacity in order for them to make decisions in the health interest of the community.

“We have set up a small pilot in Niger State to educate the miners and to show them that they can use other technologies to minimize exposure, but also they can control the migration of ore from the mining processes, “So that they don’t contaminate the communities, so that they don’t take the processing back to the villages and cause the same problem we had in 2010 and 2015, in Niger State.

“We also work with the local authorities; we work with everybody down the line to ensure that people really understand and practice this separation of mining activities from the villages. There is no way you can stop them because this is the first time many of them are seeing the kind of money they are seeing.

“We believe that as we pilot this and as we develop these approaches, some of those will be taken by the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development, and they will expand the programme, using some of the lessons learnt from the pilot and we are working very closely with the minister.”



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