Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has called for proper preventive measures against lead poisoning in Nigeria.
Professor Osignajo insisted that no country should pay for its economic prosperity and development with the lives and well being of its people.
He stated this on Tuesday at the 2nd International Conference on Lead Poisoning Associated with Artisanal Gold Mining in Nigeria, with special focus on prevention, taking place in Abuja.
“Those who say the option is death by poisoning rather than poverty offer a cynical false choice,” the vice president said.
According to him, “artisanal mining and the life to enjoy the wealth from it, is possible if we put in place the proper preventive measures and provide the right equipment.”
Professor Osinbajo recalled the outbreak of lead poisoning that occurred in Zamfara State in 2010 as a result of the processing of lead-rich gold ores by artisanal gold miners in residential compounds and village squares.
He said surveys carried out in the affected villages at the time showed that more than 17,000 people were severely exposed and an estimated 400-500 children lost their lives due to acute lead poisoning.
“It was the combined efforts of various international agencies, including Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), TerraGraphics International Foundation (TIFO) and the government of Zamfara State as well as the Nigerian government that brought that tragic episode under control,” the Vice President explained.
He said it was regrettable that five years after the Zamfara outbreak, another outbreak of severe lead poisoning was reported in April 2015 in two villages in Niger State.
Like the outbreak in Zamfara State, Professor Osinbajo said the one in Niger State which left nearly 30 children dead from severe lead toxicity, was precipitated by environmental lead contamination from artisanal gold mining activities.
“To date, nearly 7,000 and 200 children in Zamfara and Niger States respectively have received chelation treatment. I am informed that this is the largest group of children under 5 years of age with severe lead intoxication reported anywhere.”
” It is unfortunate that treatment does not reverse the debilitating effects of lead poisoning, but only accelerates the rate at which the body expels the lead in order to prevent further damage or death… The thousands of children who did not die of lead poisoning in Zamfara and Niger States may therefore have to live with cognitive and other disabilities. Many of those children may never attain their full potential as productive citizens,” he stated.
Vice President admitted that current efforts to tackle lead poisoning in artisanal gold mining have not been adequate.
“What better evidence do we have for this than the fact that the Niger State outbreak happened 5 years after we thought we had contained the issue? Indications of re-contamination in previously remediated sites in Zamfara compel us to re-think and refocus our commitment and strategy to protecting our vulnerable children and communities at large,” he said.
Professor Osinbajo expressed hope that the conference would provide a platform for key national, regional and international stakeholders to come together to develop a strategy for forestalling future outbreaks of lead poisoning associated with artisanal gold mining and preventing re-contamination of previously remediated sites.
He noted that while the Nigerian government has pursued a National Gold Purchase Scheme as well as the development of a National Gold Policy, gold mining in Nigeria was currently dominated by artisanal miners using rudimentary mining methods and crude processing techniques.
He said the obvious consequence was the exposure of miners, the environment and local communities to serious danger.
Nigeria’s Minister of State for Mines and Steel Development, Abubakar Bwari said that despite the remediation efforts in the areas affected by lead poisoning, there could still be re-contamination while some children might not respond to treatment.
Stepping up measures
He said measures should be stepped up to prevent further outbreaks of lead poisoning in any part of Nigeria.
The Head of Mission of the Medecins San Frontiers (Doctors without Borders), Philip Aruna insisted that treatment of patients of lead poisoning does not translate into cure.
Mr. Aruna said concerted efforts must be made to prevent another outbreak of the disease.
Delegates from different parts of the world are attending the two-day conference, organised by Nigeria’s Ministry of Mines and Steel Development in collaboration with Médecins Sans Frontières, MSF.