The Chief Epidemiologist of the Federal Ministry of Health Dr Henry Akpan disclosed today that lead poisoning caused by illegal gold mining has killed 163 Nigerians, most of them children, since March in several remote villages in northern Nigeria
Akpan said a total of 355 cases in six locations in Zamfara state had been reported so far and that 111 of the dead were children, many of them under the age of five.
“We discovered unusual cases of abdominal pains with vomiting, nausea and some having convulsions,” Akpan said. “These people were around the area where they were digging for gold. The fatality rate is 46 percent.”
Nigeria has asked for the assistance of international agencies, including the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to contain the outbreak of lead poisoning.
The villages affected are in remote parts of Zamfara, one of Nigeria’s poorest states in the arid Sahel region on the southern fringe of the Sahara desert, where many people work as artisanal miners and subsistence farmers.
Dareta, one of the villages affected, is little more than a collection of mud huts some three and half hours by road and tracks from the state capital Gusau.
An official from one international agency said it was vital to clean up family compounds thought to contain residual traces of lead before the rainy season caused further contamination. But the remote location and Muslim restrictions which allow only women into some of the compounds made the work difficult.
Akpan said health officials had found children playing in water close to the mining sites when they visited. He said the number of cases had fallen since April after local authorities halted illegal mining and began evacuating residents.
“We have been able to get on top of this. The number of reported illnesses have fallen. We are winning,” he said.