Pure Earth marks 2023 International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week


Pure Earth Ghana commemorated the 2023 International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week by engaging over 500 students at Tema Parents’ Association School in Tema, Accra.

The educational workshop aimed to address the pressing issue of lead-poisoning affecting young children, both in Ghana and worldwide. The event was graced by notable personalities including Esmond Wisdom Quansah, Pure Earth Country Director; Esther Mensah, Headmistress-Tema Parents’ Association School; John Alexis Pwamang, former Executive Director-Environmental Protection Agency and Executive Council Member of Pure Earth Ghana; and Dr. Caesar Nyadedzor, a representative of Ghana Health Service.

Mr. Quansah, Country Director-Pure Earth Blacksmith Initiative, delivered an impactful speech during the workshop. He highlighted the significance of International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week and expressed gratitude to the school for hosting this crucial event. He underlined the potential of educational institutions in raising awareness about lead-poisoning prevention.

“The global scale of childhood lead-poisoning is indeed staggering: the 2020 report titled the ‘Toxic Truth’ – a collaboration between Pure Earth and UNICEF – revealed an estimated 800 million children worldwide, approximately one in every three, exhibit lead levels in their blood indicative of lead-poisoning. This alarming statistic underscores the pervasive exposure of children to lead, particularly in low- and middle-income countries like Ghana.”

In response to this concerning trend, Pure Earth implemented the Rapid Market Screening programme (RMS) to enhance understanding of lead-exposure sources and advance solutions. Findings from the RMS programme were shared with government agencies in order to prompt action. Collaborative efforts with UNICEF and the Ghana Health Service involved conducting Blood Lead-level tests in children and environmental assessments to identify contamination sources.

Mr. Quansah emphasised that the global lead-poisoning crisis’ full extent has only recently come to light. Research, including a study by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, has shown that lead exposure results in a significant global disease burden – contributing to over 900,000 annual deaths and affecting various bodily systems. Notably, children are more vulnerable to lead-poisoning due to their rapid physical and cognitive development.

Even low levels of lead exposure have been associated with cognitive decline in children, while the learning gap between rich and poor countries is partially attributed to elevated lead levels. Mr. Quansah also highlighted a World Bank study that estimated the global cost of lead exposure in 2019 was a staggering US$6trillion, equivalent to 6.9 percent of the global GDP. This places lead exposure as a significant environmental risk factor, alongside other pollution sources.

Mr. Pwamang, Executive Council member of Pure Earth Ghana and former Executive Director-Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), delivered a speech that underscored the importance of collaboration in the fight against childhood lead-poisoning. He emphasised the need for collective action to address this critical issue. Mr. Pwamang commended the declaration of a National Action Plan by key stakeholders in Ghana to reduce lead-poisoning, highlighting that the fight against childhood lead-poisoning requires a comprehensive approach. This approach involves coordination across relevant ministries such as health, environment and education, with sector-specific responses integrated into a budgeted national action plan.

The former EPA Director stressed the significance of equipping the health system to protect children from lead exposure. Trained healthcare workers, according to Mr. Pwamang, play a pivotal role in lead-poisoning prevention; from recognising symptoms to testing blood-lead levels and managing cases. He also emphasised the need for healthcare facilities to be adequately equipped for measuring blood-lead levels, providing essential medicines and establishing structures for referrals, testing and management.

Furthermore, Mr. Pwamang called for the adoption of appropriate laws, standards and regulations to eliminate or limit the use of lead in consumer products – including paint, ceramics, toys, cosmetics and cookware. He emphasised the importance of producer responsibility and responsible sourcing throughout the supply chain of products, including take-back clauses and deposit refund schemes.

Dr. Nyadedzor, a representative of Ghana Health Service (GHS), added to the discussions as he emphasised the profound global significance of lead exposure and poisoning, particularly within the context of Ghana. Lead, a well-known multi-organ system toxin, poses a severe threat to public health due to its far-reaching toxic effects even at low levels of exposure.

“The GHS’s active participation in International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week reflects the organisation’s dedication to addressing this pressing issue. By bringing together stakeholders including teachers, students, the media and health professionals, the GHS aims to raise awareness, promote prevention and collaborate on comprehensive solutions to combat childhood lead-poisoning.

“This event not only highlights the commitment of GHS to public health but also underscores the need for coordinated efforts among various sectors to safeguard the well-being of Ghana’s children, and contribute in global efforts to end childhood lead-poisoning.”

The occasion was hailed as a valuable opportunity for the school to deepen its awareness of measures which can be taken in the collective effort to prevent lead-poisoning.

Mrs. Mensah, on her part, stressed that even within the confines of their educational institution, they can play a vital role in spreading awareness about the dangers of lead-poisoning and how to prevent it.

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