The level of negligence indicated by the Nigerian government regarding the continuous child death in Gummi, Bukkuyum axis of Zamfara state due to the well publicized lead poisoning in the area is very unfortunate and disappointing.
Background of the problem: The lead poisoning was a consequence of illegal mining operations by the people of Gummi and Bukkuyum local governments, who mostly live on less than half a dollar per day, in their fight for daily existence.
Between January and July 2010, the miners from about 15 villages of Bukkuyum and Gummi local governments in Zamfara state brought rocks containing gold ore into the villages from small-scale mining operations; however, the villagers were unaware that the ore also contain extremely high levels of lead. The ore was crushed inside village compounds, spreading lead dust throughout the community.
During the period, a research was conducted by international aiders from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Blacksmith Institute and the World Health Organisation (WHO). Out of the nearly 120 children examined, 96% were found to show life threatening lead concentrations in their blood, in addition to the over 200 deaths already recorded within the period. By September 2011, the death toll increased to 400 with at least 2,500 children still living with severe concentrations. These figures have already risen to 500 and 3500 respectively.
Lead exposure in young children can have neurological consequences, preventing sheaths from forming properly. It damages the central nervous systems, endocrine system, kidneys and other internal body organs. Exposure over long period of time results to death. The element and its compounds are toxic to foetuses and infants. Women who have been exposed to lead in pregnancy have sometimes given birth to children with serious birth defects. According to the MSF, CDC and WHO experts the affected children in Zamfara state were generally found to show more severe symptoms:
“gastro-intestinal upsets, skin rashes, changes of mood; some were lethargic, some partially paralysed, some had become blind and deaf. The worst affected were coming into the small Ministry of Health clinic with seizures that could last for hour and would sometimes lead to coma and then often to death.”
Response to the Situation
Since the discovery of the tragedy, which was the largest heavy metal incident in the world during the period, considering the total number of deaths and life threatening exposures, response to the situation is only actively persuaded by the international aiders. Chelation theraphy, the only approved control alternative, situation awareness campaign and continuous research are only being provided and/or executed by these teams.
The Nigerian government shows only partial-undelivered concern. The small clinics in the area are not adequately equipped with detection, treatment and research facilities. The community health workers are not provided with adequate training, and supply of chelating drugs is generally a story. The local miners are extremely poor with no access to amenities, menial job or background education and were therefore forced to continue with the dangerous exploration as source money for household food. With this trend, the problem is projected to kill thousands of children and completely deformed many, not only in the currently affected areas, but also the neighbouring communities. The government should therefore ensure corruption-free unconditional commitment in addressing the situation at the earliest schedule. Human rights organizations should act accordingly in saving the numerous lives at risks.