MSF calls on president to intervene Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) warns that time is running out to get children critical medical treatment and to solve a lead poisoning crisis in Zamfara state, Nigeria, and that the Nigerian government must act now. Funds promised by the President in May of this year to address the ongoing catastrophe have still not been released. MSF has been treating children suffering from lead poisoning since the start of the crisis. In a progress report out today, MSF says very little has been done on any of the action points agreed on during an international lead poisoning conference co-hosted by the Nigerian Ministry of Health in May of this year.

Nigeria 2012 © Olga Overbeek/MSF
Children at a compound in Bagega. There are between 30 and 40 children living in the shared compound, some affected by lead poisoning. Over the last two years nine children have died in the compound. Some families are so desperate they have started trying to try to remove the lead from the compound themselves.

Funds to tackle the crisis – with a specific focus on the remediation of Bagega village – were promised by the President of Nigeria during the conference, but those funds have still not been released. Remediation is a process which removes lead from the home environment. In the absence of remediation, children are continually re-exposed to the toxins and medical treatment is useless. “Bagega is reaching a crisis point,” says Michael White, acting head of mission for MSF in Nigeria. “More than two and a half years after the lead poisoning disaster was first discovered, hundreds of children are still awaiting critical medical treatment. MSF is ready and willing to treat these children, but cannot do so until their homes have been environmentally remediated. It’s time to get the lead out of Bagega.” Remediation was due to begin at the end of October 2012, directly after the last rainy season. But the window for remediation in Bagega is closing rapidly: the process must start before the end of the year, before the next rainy season. If this does not happen there could be disastrous consequences for the community – if the funds are not released in November, MSF’s chances of treating lead poisoning victims in Bagega are drastically reduced. MSF has been treating victims of lead poisoning in Zamfara since 2010, and maintains that a successful resolution to the crisis must include a three-pronged approach of professional remediation of affected villages, medical treatment to the most vulnerable victims and the implementation of safer mining practices.

Nigeria 2012 © Olga Overbeek/MSF
Workers crush stones at the Bagega gold processing site.

MSF has been collaborating closely with TerraGraphics, an internationally recognized remediation company that led the successful remediation of seven villages in Zamfara state in 2010. TerraGraphics, MSF and local stakeholders are all ready to start work immediately upon the release of the funds. Both organizations have been collaborating with government agencies and ministries to assure there is a system in place that is effective, accountable, transparent and will guarantee the best outcomes for the communities of Bagega. This kind of collaboration ensures Nigerian participation and ownership of both process and results while assuring accountability and compliance with internationally recognized standards and best practices. MSF and TerraGraphics have done everything in their power to address this crisis.  In the end, the ultimate responsibility rests with the people, and governments, of Nigeria. Only immediate action by the government can change the situation for the better. MSF has been providing emergency medical services throughout Nigeria since 1971. MSF is not affiliated with any religion, government agency or political party.

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