163 dead after lead poisoning in Nigeria

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Lead poisoning has taken the lives of at least 163 individuals in the northern Nigerian state of Zamfara in recent weeks. Sometime during March residents of remote villages began illegally mining gold in areas of high lead concentration. There have been a total of 355 reported cases, setting the fatality rate at 46%.

According to Henry Akpan, chief epidemiologist at Nigeria's Ministry of Health, 111 of the 163 recorded deaths have been children, many only several years old. Akpan further said that officials had seen young children playing in contaminated water located near the mining sites.

The government had found through their yearly immunization program that there were almost no children living in the villages of Zamfara. Adults from the area reported that the children had died of malaria. However, after an investigation, health officials concluded that there was an abnormally large amount of lead circulating in the villagers' bodies.

Nigeria's government has requested assistance from international organizations, including the World Health Organization and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in averting a widespread outbreak. The Ministry has meanwhile organized two camps for villagers suffering from the poison.