The Zambia Mining and Environmental Remediation and Improvement Project has commenced free Lead screening and treatment for children impacted by Lead in Kabwe.
ZMERIP National Project Coordinator, Gideon Ndalama explained that the Project is using the door to door approach to recruit children for testing and treatment due to the Covid19 restrictions.
Mr Ndalama said the screening programme started with children initially identified by the Copperbelt Environmental Project, an earlier World Bank funded project and Kabwe Mine Pollution Amelioration Initiative (KAMPAI) project funded by JICA before it was scaled up.
He said since the commencement of the programme in April, 2020, over 4258 children below 14 years old have been screened for high blood lead levels, of which 659 have been put on Chelation treatment representing 15.5% of the total number of children screened.
Mr Ndalama said ZMERIP is aiming to test atleast 10,000 children and treat 4,000 by 2022.
He said the response from the community is overwhelming and expressed optimism that despite the slow start due to a number of challenges, the Project will meet the targeted numbers for testing and treatment.
According to the health facilities, an average of 30 children per day are being screened for elevated Blood Lead Levels (BLL).
Mr Ndalama said working in partnership with local leaders and Community health volunteers, the community is being sensitised on how to prevent exposure to lead. “As a Project we hope to see a change in attitudes towards Lead exposure especially after children have undergone treatment.”
ZMERIP Medical Officer Tiza Mufune said children with elevated blood Lead levels above 45 micrograms per decilitre are being put on Chelation treatment for 19 days after which they are retested to ensure they are responding to treatment and that Lead levels are reduced.
He said the Project with support from Ministry of Health has continued providing health education on Lead to caregivers and parents of the children during the focused group meetings in the community and during their visit to health facilities.
Medical research has shown that Lead exposure at any level could be harmful to people especially children.
Dr Mufune said the programme of screening and treatment of children allows the community to know the wellbeing of their children and how they can prevent high Lead exposure at community level. Apart from blood lead screening, the children have their nutritional status and general well being assessed.
And speaking in an interview, Elizabeth Tembo, a resident of Makululu Zone B in Kabwe commended Government for supporting the Lead testing and treatment programme.
Mrs Tembo who is also a community health volunteer said Lead testing is important because it keeps the community informed about the status of childrens’ health.
“We are happy that the children are receiving the free health services. The community has waited for this opportunity for a long time,” Mrs Tembo said.
Mrs Tembo said, “I have two grandchildren with high Lead levels and I am confident that with the treatment the levels will reduce in their bodies.”
Mrs Tembo has encouraged parents from the affected communities of Makululu, Chowa, Kasanda and Katondo to work with the Project and ensure children benefit from the programme.
Government through the Project has procured state of the art Lead analysers and test kits. The Project has also procured drugs for $2.5 million dollars under a framework contract with UNICEF to support the health interventions.
The equipment has been installed at health facilities in Kasanda, Makuklulu, Chowa and Katondo, the lead hot spot areas which are serving as centres for Lead screening and treatment.
ZMERIP, in partnership with Kabwe Municipal Council, will be undertaking environmental remediation of households and selected public places in affected townships to reduce Lead levels in the soil.