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Lead Poisoning in Children

Lead poisoning is responsible for the mortality rate of childhood diseases in a toxic environment. Today, children across the world are at risk of exposure to lead from several sources. Lead poisoning is accounted for 0.6% of the burden of diseases worldwide (WHO, 2009). Traces of lead exposure, prevalence rates of lead poisoning and the severity of its impact varies greatly from country to country, and from place to place within countries. Countries also vary greatly in their degree of recognition of the problem and in the strength and effectiveness of their lead poisoning prevention programmes.

Most countries have programs for monitoring the degree of lead exposure in the blood and the environment. They also have programs for primary and secondary prevention of childhood lead poisoning. Some of these have restricted the use of lead, they have established an environmental standard and developed screening programs. They also have lead hot spots, such as battery recycling plants, smelters, refineries, mines, hazardous waste sites and sites where waste is burned in the open.

Although childhood lead poisoning in relation to exposure to certain substances has been recognized as a public health problem in some countries, they are yet to implement assessment and exposure prevention programs. In some countries, where there is no recognition of lead poisoning as a potential health hazard, there is no existence of screening or surveillance programs. As a result, the public health authorities have little or no knowledge of the magnitude of the exposure towards children.
Because of this heterogeneous situation, the true picture of global and regional lead poisoning in children is not yet fully defined. The contribution of lead poisoning to the global burden of disease and its effect on the global economy and human development is probably still underestimated.

There are multiple international conferences and declarations which have recognized the importance of childhood lead poisoning and the need to intervene to prevent it (see Annex for examples). The 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child and the 1992 Agenda 21 adopted by the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development both addressed the need to protect children from toxic chemicals. The 1997 Declaration of the Environment Leaders of the Eight on Children’s Environmental Health World Health Organization 14 acknowledged the importance of lead poisoning as a major environmental hazard and called for action to reduce children’s blood lead levels and to fulfill the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Declaration on Lead Risk Reduction. The 2002 Bangkok Statement on Children’s Health and the Environment called for the removal of lead from gasoline (Suk, 2002). In 2005, the Health and Environment Ministers of the Americas agreed in the Declaration of Mar del Plata to “strengthen sub-regional and national actions to achieve a complete elimination of lead in gasoline and its reduction from other sources” (OAS, 2005). The 2006 Declaration of Brescia on Prevention of the Neurotoxicity of Metals recommended: the immediate elimination of tetra-ethyl lead from the gasoline supplies of all nations; the review of all uses of lead, including recycling, in all nations; and urgent reduction of current exposure standards (Landrigan et al., 2007). The 2009 Busan Pledge for Action on Children’s Health and Environment further affirmed the commitment of the global community to end childhood lead poisoning.


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