MSF to Treat Lead-Poisoned Kids as Nigeria Approves Plan

Medecins Sans Frontiers, the international medical charity, said it’s set to start treatment of 1,500 children affected by lead-poisoning in Nigeria after President Goodluck Jonathan released funds for a clean-up.

At least 400 children have died since 2009 when a gold rush in Nigeria’s northern Zamfara state exposed thousands of children of cottage miners to lead poisoning in what MSF said may be the worst such crisis in history. Treatment had been delayed while funds were sought to rid contaminated soil of lead.

“As soon as the first neighborhood is remediated then we can begin the treatment of children,” Hosanna Fox, MSF project coordinator in Nigeria, said today by phone from Abuja, the capital. “We’ll be in a position to start screening for blood lead levels and we’ll be able to know the severity of the situation.”

Funds worth 480 million naira ($3.1 million) released by the government will be used to clean the soil of the village of Bagega in Zamfara, the last of eight contaminated settlements to be rid of lead, to enable effective treatment of as many as 1,500 affected children, according to MSF.

Residents in Zamfara started artisanal gold-mining in lead-rich ore as the price of gold increased. Miners returned with ores to their villages and homes to grind, spreading lead dust into households and poisoning mostly crawling toddlers, who have more hand-to-mouth activity than adults, according to MSF. Long-term consequences for the children include learning disabilities and damaged organs.

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