Lead poisoning kills 400 children in Nigeria
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Lead poisoning has killed 400 children under five over the past six months in Northern Nigeria, according to international humanitarian group Medecins sans Frontieres, saying that the number of fatalities could increase.
The epidemic is linked to the illegal gold mining in Zamfara state, where villagers bring home lead-laden dirt to sift through to find gold. They inhale the lead-laden dust while working on the dirt and become ill. Mining for gold is more lucrative than the traditional farming, leading to the rising number of homes that process the dirt.
MSF has been in the area trying to treat villagers for lead posioning, but the rainy season had hampered their consultations.
So far MSF has only been able to get information on seven villages in two districts, including two in Bukkuyum district and five in Anka district. MSF's Nigeria country director, Gautam Chatterjee, told RFI that a new epicentre of lead contamination, Bagega, has a population twice the size of all the patients they are treating now put together.
Following advice from toxicologists, MSF is expanding conducting outpatient treatment of those poisoned, which eases the burden of the local hospitals. People are more willing to be treated if they can stay at home, he said.
Ground water in the area is also contaminated, but "locally available water is very scarce. Villagers depend on hand-dug wells," Chatterjee told RFI. MSF and the other groups in the area have not been able to determine whether all the wells in the area are contaminated.
"In some of the affected villages where we started treatment, the traditional leaders had asked people to stop mining and stop processing this ore which produces so much lead it contaminated the children and themselves," said Chatterjee.
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