Lead poisoning is a preventable childhood disease, and Nigeria needs to take the necessary steps to address the situation. This was the central theme of Dr. Mary Jean Brown, the Chief of the Healthy Homes and Lead Poisoning Prevention Branch at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), during her recent visit to Nigeria. Dr. Brown's speaking tour was organized by the U.S. Mission in Abuja, in partnership with the Miners Association of Nigeria and CDC.
Dr. Brown is an internationally recognized expert and leader in the field of childhood lead poisoning prevention. She has provided her expertise to health officials in the United States, China, Kosovo, and Nigeria, among other locations. Dr. Brown was accompanied on her trip to Nigeria by Dr. Paula Burgess, who currently serves the Deputy Associate Director for Science in the Office of the Director for the National Center for Environmental Health and the Agency for Toxic Substances Disease Registry.
During her time in Nigeria, Dr. Brown traveled to Enugu, Abakaliki, Kaduna, Lafia, and Abuja, where she shared her expertise on lead poisoning with numerous health and environmental officials, miners, NGO activists, community leaders, and the media. Dr. Brown's presentation, which focused on the dangers of lead contamination, significantly raised public awareness of the issue and challenged government officials, community leaders, and miners to address the problem.
Haphazard and artisanal mining activities across the country, especially in Zamfara, Ebonyi and Nasawara states, have continued to wreck havoc on the environment, and have had a deadly impact on the health of children less than five years old. In 2009, a serious lead poisoning situation was reported in Zamfara, and hundreds of deaths and severe disabilities among children were related to high-level lead exposures in many villages.
In her presentation, Dr. Brown not only highlighted key concerns about lead poisoning, but provided strategies that can help reduce lead exposures especially among children and pregnant women. She urged the Government of Nigeria to make and enforce laws on mining to ensure that ore processing is safer in Zamfara and in other parts of the country. According to Dr. Brown, Nigeria is blessed with a lot of valuable minerals, but they must be used and processed responsibly.
The impact of lead poisoning on any affected community is enormous. Apart from killing children, the disease also causes brain damage, low IQ, and miscarriages in pregnant women. Given the current lead poisoning situation in Bagega village of Zamfara State, Dr. Brown advocated for a clean-up of the village. In addition, she proposed the creation of sustainable public health programs to help identify lead-poisoned children and provide the needed medical interventions.
Dr. Brown's visit brought attention to the lead poising situation in Nigeria. She visited Musa Mohammed Sada, the Minister of Mines and Steel Development and Hadiza Ibrahim Mailafia, the Minister of Environment. In their discussions, Dr. Brown urged the ministers to help promote safe mining and ore-processing activities across the country. In addition, Dr. Brown requested the ministers and other public health officials in Nigeria to work together with the World Bank, UNICEF, CDC, and other international donor agencies to provide funds for the immediate remediation of high-priority lead-contaminated villages in Zamfara.