Illegal gold mining: 1m Nigerians at risk of mercury poisoning-WHO


By Ibeneme Ebelechukwu, Abuja

The World Health Organization (WHO) in Nigeria has warned that not less than 850,690 people living in 12 states including Osun, Niger, and Zamfara were at risk of mercury poisoning.

The organization said this was due to large release of mercury emissions from artisanal and small scale gold mining (ASGM) around the country.

Other states at the risk of poisoning are Kebbi, Katsina, Kaduna, Kwara, Borno, Kaduna, Jigawa, and Yobe as well as the Federal Capital Territory.

The national consultant, Public Health and Environment (PHE) of WHO, Dr Edwin Edeh, made this known at a one-day health sensitization to flag- off field assessment of Artisanal and small scale gold  mining in Minna, Niger state.

He pointed out that “mercury, which is widely used to extract gold in Artisanal and Small-Scale Gold Mining (ASGM); is a lethal chemical which have adverse effect on public health.

“The essence of the assessment will be used by the country to develop a National Action Plan (NAP), to identify public health implications of the mining activities communities as well as strategies for action needed to reduce the public health impact.

He stressed that WHO was supporting the federal ministry of Health to conduct the assessment in two states, namely, Niger and Osun in collaboration with the ministries of Environment and Mines and Steel Development. Others are Global Environment Facility (GEF), United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the Swiss Tropical Institute.

In addition to the assessment in the two states, WHO is also supporting the FMOH to build capacities of health workers on management of mercury poisoning and on environmental health activities that need to be periodically carried out to monitor and reduce health risks of ASGM

In another development, as part of efforts to strengthen the healthcare system in north-east Nigeria, the World Health Organization (WHO) is rehabilitating 23 selected health facilities in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states in order to enhance healthcare service delivery that could benefit up to 150,000 people in the affected states. 

According to Dr Clement Peter, WHO officer-in charge, strengthening the healthcare system was a top priority of WHO’s health emergency response in the north-east Nigeria where insurgency had devastated services for a decade.” 

Out of the 23 health facilities to be rehabilitated, nine will undergo comprehensive structural renovation: four primary healthcare facilities in Yobe, four in Adamawa and one secondary healthcare facility in Borno. This entails structural rehabilitation and renovation of the health, sanitary facilities and provision of equipment, drugs and medical supplies. 

Most of the health facilities are either partially destroyed by insurgents or over-stretched as a result of population displacements in the north-east region,” Dr Collins Owili, WHO emergency manager in the north-east disclosed. 

“In Yobe state, for example, the Kukar Gadu Primary Health Centre, hitherto, had the capacity to provide healthcare services for more than 11,000 persons, but due to recent population displacement, the facility had to cater for more than 21,000 persons including internally displaced persons currently living in Kukar Gadu community,” said Dr Owili. 

After the implementation of the WHO intervention, the capacity of the Kukar Gadu centre will be increased enabling more than 20,000 persons to have access to adequate medical treatment. 


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