The Head of Department of Population, Family and Reproductive Health at the University of Ghana School of Public Health, Prof. Richmond Aryeetey has highlighted some health implications that toxic substances such as mercury used in illegal mining (Galamsey) affects the general health of Ghanaians.
While addressing the topic ‘Galamsey and Non-Communicable diseases in Ghana’, Prof. Aryeetey revealed that through illegal mining, Ghana releases a lot of mercury into the atmosphere which gets into food systems in the country, posing health challenges such as kidney failure among others.
He was speaking at the 6th Biennial Public Lecture by the College of Health Sciences of the University of Ghana, on the theme, ‘Environmental and Health Impact of Galamsey: The Real Cost of That Gold’, which was held at the British Council, Ghana.
“Non-Communicable Diseases are the main causes of death globally. There are toxic chemicals that people who are involved in mining can be exposed to but there are also people who live close by in the commnuties who get exposed to [the dangerous substance]. Now, mercury is considered one of ten chemicals that have been recognized globally as a major public health concern and in Ghana, we release a lot of mercury into the environment, that is in the air, into the water, etc. When it gets into water, there are some bacteria that take it and create an organic compound called methyl mercury and it also has impacts on us because this one gets into our system through our food systems.”
“Its impact on our health is that it affects our digestive system, nervous system which is probably one of the main effects that it has on us, our respiratory system and then also cardiovascular system, so affecting our risk for hypertension, heart-attack, kidney failure, etc.”
Prof. Aryeetey further gave some recommendations as part of efforts to curtail the practice of illegal mining in Ghana. To this, he called on the media to help in sounding an alarm about not just the environmental impacts of illegal mining, but the health impacts as well.
“I think we need to do a better job of risk identification for all these hazards that I have talked about. We need to have a routine surveillance to identify first the risk factors of these diseases. They are happening, but it’s so much that we are overwhelmed by the ability to figure out where it’s happening and the scale that it is happening and we also need surveillance on the disease outcomes which is not easy because people move around a lot.”
“The media needs to help sound the alarm and let people know that there are harms caused by galamsey beyond the environmental. We’ve said a lot about the environmental but there is also the health so let’s help people know.”
With respect of risk management to illegal mining in Ghana, Prof. Aryeetey added that alternative livelihood should be made available for the people, especially the youth who are in the mining areas. This he believes will give them better options rather than engaging in illegal mining activities.
“We need to first recognize that mining is really an income earner and for some people, it is something that we are not going to get them to stop but we need to give them alternative and better means to [practise] effective ways of mining so that mining can coexist in a sustainable way with other systems that exist.”
“We also give the youth alternative livelihoods. Some people are driven to mining not because mining is something that gives money, they also don’t have any alternatives. We need to get training for those who are involved in mining and those who are supposed to protect them. Because it is the duty of the state to protect them but it is the duty of those who are involved in mining we need to use the personal protective equipment.”
Story by: John Collins Kaledzi | univers.ug.edu.gh