Reported at Al

At least 163 people have died in northern Nigeria in recent weeks as a result of lead poisoning from illegal gold mining in several remote villages.

Henry Akpan, the Nigerian health ministry’s chief epidemiologist, said on Friday that 111 children were among those killed in Zamfara state, many of them under the age of five.

The poisonings began when villagers started digging illegally for gold and transporting crushed rock home from the mines.

The soil containing lead deposits was haphazardly disposed of leading to instances of children playing with it.

“We discovered unusual cases of abdominal pains with vomiting, nausea and some having convulsions,” Akpan told the Reuters news agency.

He said health officials had also found children playing in water close to the mining sites when they visited.

“These people were around the area where they were digging for gold. The fatality rate is 46 per cent.”

Containing the ‘epidemic’

Nigerian authorities have asked for assistance from various international health agencies, including the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to help contain the outbreak of lead poisoning.

Akpan said the number of cases has fallen since April after local authorities halted illegal mining and began evacuating residents.

“We are doing a lot to contain the epidemic,” he said.

“We have been able to get on top of this. The number of reported illnesses have fallen. We are winning.”

The impoverished state of Zamfara is rich in minerals including gold, copper, iron ore and manganese.

Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria’s president, recently inaugurated a mineral processing plant in the state, which is seeking to attract investment.

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