• Acting on an Environmental Health Disaster: The Case of the Aral Sea.

      Small, I; van der Meer, J; Upshur, R; Uzbekistan/Turkmenistan and the Aral Sea Area Program, Medecins Sans Frontieres, Tashkent, Uzbekistan. msfh-tashkent@amsterdam.msf.org (Published by National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, 2001-06)
      The Aral Sea area in Central Asia has been encountering one of the world's greatest environmental disasters for more than 15 years. During that time, despite many assessments and millions of dollars spent by large, multinational organizations, little has changed. The 5 million people living in this neglected and virtually unknown part of the world are suffering not only from an environmental catastrophe that has no easy solutions but also from a litany of health problems. The region is often dismissed as a chronic problem where nothing positive can be achieved. Within this complicated context, Medecins Sans Frontieres, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999, is actively trying to assess the impact of the environmental disaster on human health to help the people who live in the Aral Sea area cope with their environment. Medecins Sans Frontieres has combined a direct medical program to improve the health of the population while conducting operational research to gain a better understanding of the relationship between the environmental disaster and human health outcomes. In this paper we explore the health situation of the region and the broader policy context in which it is situated, and present some ideas that could potentially be applied to many other places in the world that are caught up in environmental and human health disasters.
    • Outbreak of Fatal Childhood Lead Poisoning Related to Artisanal Gold Mining in Northwestern Nigeria, 2010.

      Dooyema, C A; Neri, A; Lo, Y-C; Durant, J; Dargan, P I; Swarthout, T; Biya, O; Gidado, S O; Haladu, S; Sani-Gwarzo, N; et al. (National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, 2011-12-20)
      Background: In May 2010, a team of national and international organizations was assembled to investigate children's deaths due to lead poisoning in villages in northwestern Nigeria. Objectives: To determine the cause of the childhood lead poisoning outbreak, investigate risk factors for child mortality, and identify children aged <5 years in need of emergency chelation therapy for lead poisoning. Methods: We administered a cross-sectional, door-to-door questionnaire in two affected villages, collected blood from children aged 2-59 months, and soil samples from family compounds. Descriptive and bivariate analyses were performed with survey, blood-lead, and environmental data. Multivariate logistic regression techniques were used to determine risk factors for childhood mortality. Results: We surveyed 119 family compounds. One hundred eighteen of 463 (25%) children aged <5 years had died in the last year. We tested 59% (204/345) of children, aged <5 years, and all were lead poisoned (≥10 µg/dL); 97% (198/204) of children had blood-lead levels ≥45 µg/dL, the threshold for initiating chelation therapy. Gold ore was processed inside two-thirds of the family compounds surveyed. In multivariate modeling significant risk factors for death in the previous year from suspected lead poisoning included: the child's age, the mother performing ore-processing activities, community well as primary water source, and the soil-lead concentration in the compound. Conclusion: The high levels of environmental contamination, percentage of children aged <5 years with elevated blood-lead levels (97%, >45 µg/dL), and incidence of convulsions among children prior to death (82%) suggest that most of the recent childhood deaths in the two surveyed villages were caused by acute lead poisoning from gold ore-processing activities. Control measures included environmental remediation, chelation therapy, public health education, and control of mining activities.