WHO says e-waste exposure threat to women, children’s health

Exposure to e-waste dangerous to health

The National Consultant, Public Health and Environment, WHO Nigeria, Dr Edwin Isotu-Edeh, has urged the government to regulate and manage electronic waste (e-Waste) exposure on women and children.

Isotu-Edeh made the call at a Webinar on Electronic Waste and Public Health in Nigeria, themed: “Health Impacts of Electronic Waste in Nigeria: Are you a Victim or Perpetrator?”

According to him, Nigeria’s national disease burden is linked to risk factors from the environment through electronic waste exposure.

He said pregnant women and children working in e-waste dismantling sites are most vulnerable in impacts and exposure, as the country has a high maternal and child mortality rate.

He added that “these e-waste materials pose a tremendous challenge for global health security on maternal and child health, given that Nigeria has a high burden of under-five mortality.

“This stands at 128 deaths per 1,000 live births; there is an urgent need to address the issue of e-waste, especially on children who are the future of our nation.

“The sustainability of the intervention is key to protecting Nigeria’s gains in maternal and child health.”

He said Nigeria needed to do more in reducing rising cases of cancers and other non-communicable diseases by protecting the environment and reducing toxic emissions.

He explained that low funding; low awareness of e-waste among government institutions and the absence of national policy and strategy were challenges of e-waste management in the country.

Isotu-Edeh, who stressed the need to coordinate and strengthen capacities on e-waste management, said: “Africa is a dumping ground for electronic wastes largely from developed countries.”

He, however, acknowledged the committed leadership of the WHO Country Representative in Nigeria, Dr Walter Mulombo, in supporting the country to address the health impacts of e-waste.

E-waste challenges

The Director, Climate Change and Environmental Health, Federal Ministry of Health, Dr Shuaibu Bonji, restated the Federal Government’s commitment toward public health safety.

Bonji, represented by Dr Jaggu Akolo, said the Ministry was working to end the challenges of e-waste across the country, calling for more sustained partnership from stakeholders.

The Director, Research and Documentation, Nigeria Environmental Summit Group, Dr Kingsley Okpara, said about 18 million adolescents were involved in informal e-waste collection sites.

He noted that activities such as burning and dismantling of discarded electronic items have a huge impact on those living around the areas, adding that many site workers form the habit of burning products at night when law enforcement officers have closed from work.

Okpara said: “We discovered that most people just discard their e-waste without bothering to recycle it formally; this has led to pollution of water sources and the environment.

“Yes, there is a lot of money in it, but e-waste products contain about 1,000 harmful chemicals such as lead, mercury, among others and are carcinogenic in nature.

“Pregnant women and children work and live at e-waste sites, this should not be. Informal e-waste workers are completely oblivion when it comes to the toxic nature of e-waste.”

He said Nigeria has delayed enforcing the e-waste management regulation, adding that there was a need for training of stakeholders to manage e-waste in the country.

…these e-waste materials pose a tremendous challenge for global health security on maternal and child health, given that Nigeria has a high burden of under-five mortality.

E-waste management

The Lead Consultant, C-Circle Research, Dr Chimere Ohajinwa, called on tiers of government to invest in home-grown research and stop relying on foreign evidence.

She argued that with increasing dependence on technology, Nigeria will continue to increase e-waste products.

“More than 80 per cent of e-waste generated is not recycled in the country; we are worried about e-waste because it contains many toxic chemicals that are hazardous to our health.”

She said awareness creation on e-waste management must be stepped up; saying the practice among the informal sector must be addressed.

The webinar was part of the Phase II of the Nigeria National E-waste and Health Intervention supported by WHO.

Such activities include institutional capacity assessment in states, awareness, training of healthcare workers and local government health educators, review of the draft National Policy.

According to the UN in 2021, each person on the planet will produce an average of 7.6kg of e-waste. This type of waste contains hazardous substances such as lead, mercury, cadmium, arsenic and beryllium and persistent organic pollutants. (NAN)

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