GUSAU, Nigeria — Doctors are struggling to save children stricken by lead poisoning — many of them blind, deaf, and unable to walk — after poor herdsmen began illegally mining gold in an area of northern Nigeria with high concentrations of lead.
More than 160 villagers have died and hundreds more have been sickened in the remote villages of Nigeria’s Zamfara state, officials said yesterday. The region is near the border with Niger, on the cusp of the Sahara Desert.
A spokeswoman for the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the agency’s initial tests found extremely high levels of lead in the blood of adults and children, who are the most susceptible to the illness.
“The scope of the poisoning is unprecedented in CDC’s work with lead poisoning worldwide,’’ said agency spokeswoman Vivi Abrams.
“This is because of the severity of the poisoning, the number of fatalities, the large number of children and adults with symptomatic poisoning, and the extent of the environmental contamination,’’ she said.
Nigerian officials asked for help last month from the CDC and other international agencies to help treat illnesses local authorities initially blamed on malaria.
Doctors Without Borders has set up a medical center for children in the area and hopes to open another in coming weeks, said Lauren Cooney, emergency coordinator for the agency, which is also known by its French name, Medecins Sans Frontieres.
Those most severely affected are children 5 and younger, she said.