Pure Earth, BSMMU teams up to prevent childhood lead poisoning

Bangladesh is the fourth most lead pollution-impacted country in the world. About 36 million children, that is 60 per cent of children in Bangladesh are poisoned by lead with an average blood lead level of 6.8 μg/dL.

A recent World Bank study shows that children in Bangladesh have lost 20 million Intelligence quotient (IQ) points causing a high economic cost of USD 10,897 million, which equals 3.6 per cent of the country’s GDP.

In Bangladesh, the major sources of lead exposure include used-lead acid battery recycling in informal settings, leaded paint, aluminum cookware, ceramic food ware, spices, toys, cosmetics, food, electronic waste, fertilizers, and cultured fish feed.

In light of the severe impact of lead exposure on child and maternal health and the nation's well-being; Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) and Pure Earth, a US-based environmental organization signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on 10 December in the BSMMU conference room in Shahbagh, Dhaka to collaboratively combat this public health issue.

The MoU was signed by Pure Earth’s Bangladesh country director Mahfuzar Rahman and BSMMUs’ dean of Preventive and Social Medicine professor Md Atiqul Haque with BSMMU vice chancellor professor Md Sharfuddin Ahmed in the chair.

Mahfuzar Rahman, country director, of Pure Earth said, “Lead pollution is a global concern. Recently, in the USA, lead has been found in the pouches of cinnamon applesauce, also in chocolates. Developed countries are struggling to contain lead contamination whereas developing countries like Bangladesh are facing multi-faceted issues concerning lead pollution. We have to collaborate to generate knowledge and raise awareness to combat lead poisoning.”

Siddika Sultana, executive director, ESDO said, “We have been working on preventing lead pollution since 2008. Our main focus was to put lead-based paint under regulatory surveillance. Addressing the harmful effects of lead-painted toys is very crucial as it is poisoning our children.”

BSMMU dean professor Md Atiqul Haque said, “Under the leadership of the vice chancellor of BSMMU, we have partnerships with many international and local universities to enhance our research efforts. Joining hands with Pure Earth will enable us to generate evidence-based data on the impact of lead pollution. ”

BSMMU vice chancellor professor Md Sharfuddin Ahmed said, “Sources of lead are widespread; researchers have found it in the chicken’s feed, paint, cookware, and many more. Lead is poisonous. It decreases a child’s intelligence and causes miscarriage. We, BSMMU will provide every support to Pure Earth to solve lead pollution and save human lives.”

In this collaborative initiative, BSMMU and Pure Earth commit to spearheading a range of impactful activities aimed at combating childhood lead poisoning in Bangladesh. These efforts include organizing knowledge and awareness-building seminars and capacity-building training sessions, providing fellowship funds for research on lead poisoning, establishing a protocol for identifying lead poisoning cases within its purview, and ensuring prompt referral for further blood lead level testing or necessary health support.

BSMMU will also be integrated into Pure Earth’s ‘Lead-Safe Bangladesh Coalition,’ an alliance of organizations in Bangladesh that comprises members from NGOs, INGOs, the UN, researchers, academicians, and environmental health experts.