Nigeria Lead Poisoning Crisis?Now Is the Time for Action

Nigerian Government Must Ensure Clean Up of Affected Area, Along With Necessary Medical Care and Safer Mining Practices

The Nigerian government must commit significant resources to respond to a lead poisoning epidemic in Zamfara State, which has sickened thousands of children since 2010. 

Nigeria 2012 © Olga Overbeek/MSF

A 10-year-old worker at the gold processing site in Bagega

ABUJA, NIGERIA, MAY 11, 2012—The Nigerian government must commit significant resources to respond to a lead poisoning epidemic in Zamfara State, which has sickened thousands of children since 2010, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and other delegates at an international conference on the epidemic said today.

Decision-makers from the Nigerian government and the ministers of mines, environment, and health were not present at the International Lead Poisoning Conference, held May 9–10 in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja. No concrete action by the Nigerian federal government was announced.

“There has been plenty of talk, but now is the time for action,” said Ivan Gayton, MSF country representative in Nigeria. “MSF will consider this conference to be a success when all of the poisoned children are living in a safe environment and receiving treatment.”

Delegates at the conference endorsed an action plan calling for the Nigerian government’s commitment to resolve the crisis, which included three key pillars: medical care; environmental remediation; and safer mining. To succeed, the Nigerian government, in particular the ministries of mines, environment, and health at both the federal and state levels, must commit to significant resources and coordination efforts.

Read the MSF briefing paper: Lead Poisoning Crisis in Zamfara State, Nigeria

Promised funds of 850 million Naira ($5.4 million) for environmental remediation (the removal of contaminants) and safer mining in Zamfara have languished for months, while thousands of children continue to suffer from acute lead poisoning.

Release of the promised funds is a key priority of the Action Plan, as is the immediate remediation of the village of Bagega, where an estimated 1,500 children have been suffering from lead poisoning since 2010. They continue to wait for their village to be made safe. MSF cannot provide effective treatment in locations such as Bagega, until it is remediated. MSF treats the sickest children at its inpatient facility in Anka Hospital.

“The people of Bagega are desperate for help,” said Zakaria Mwatia, a nurse and project coordinator for MSF in Zamfara. “Some of the villagers are attempting to remediate their own compounds in hopes that MSF will be able to provide treatment.”

“To effectively cut the pathways of lead contamination requires specialized expertise and equipment,” said Simba Tirima, a scientist with Terragraphics, an environmental engineering firm. “The people of Bagega need urgent assistance to provide a safe environment for their children.”

The conference included delegates from Zamfara state ministries, HRH the Emir of Anka, Nigerian government representatives, national and international aid workers, scientists, and health environmental and mining experts.