By NBF News
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The Federal Government has said that the outbreak of lead poisoning in two local government areas of Zamfara State, Bukuyim and Anka, arising from illegal gold mining, has been brought under control.

Allaying the fears of residents of the area of possible spread of the poisoning, the Minister of State for Health, Alhaji Suleiman Bello, said that the ministry had assembled a rapid response team to contain the outbreak.

From January to date, the minister said that 163 deaths had been recorded from 355 suspected cases reported in five communities of the two LGAs, with 111 recorded among children under five years of age.

A statement by the Chief Press Secretary in the ministry, Mrs. Boade Akinola, quoted the minister as saying that the ministry was working with Zamfara State Ministry of Health, Doctors without Borders, World Health Organisation and Centre for Disease Control on the matter.

The minister said that the team was providing immediate treatment for affected persons and was working hard to determine the extent of the outbreak, with a view to developing sustainable long term response and mitigation strategy.

Condoling with the families of the bereaved, the minister said that four other council areas - Maru, Maradun, Zurin, Guasu and Taata-Mafara - where similar mining activities were going on, had been put under surveillance.

Bello directed all persons involved in mining activities to relocate all grinding and extraction processes away from their homes and villages.

The minister called on Nigerians not to panic, pledging that government was committed to protecting the health of the people. He stressed that public health communication had also been intensified to increase awareness on the scourge.

Bello said, 'The lead poison was reported during the routine disease surveillance activities in March 2010. A high rate of death was noticed among young children, mostly under five years, in Zamfara State.

'Investigation revealed that these deaths were due to lead poisoning. Blood specimens taken from the cases have shown high lead levels and the source of lead poisoning had been traced to illegal gold mining activities in the affected villages.

'Lead is a natural occurring metal found in small amount in the earth's crust. It is produced from human activities such as mining, burning of fossil fuel and manufacture of paints, batteries, pipes and pottery.

'Lead contaminates the environment and can affect people, especially children. Lead can get into the body through ingestion or inhalation of contaminated dust, soil and food.

'Children mainly get affected by swallowing contaminated soil or dust from their hands while playing. When absorbed into the body, lead can cause serious damage to vital organs like the brain, kidneys, nerves and the blood cells.'

'Lead poisoning is especially harmful to children under the age of six years because their body is not fully developed and causes irreversible damage to the brain and vital organs.'

The minister said that high level exposure to lead could cause miscarriage in pregnant women, adding that most cases of children with lead poisoning go undiagnosed and untreated until they manifest with complications.

He listed some of the symptoms of lead poisoning as headache, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, tiredness, irritability and convulsion. He clarified that the disease could only be detected through blood tests.