Original articles

The role of the South African Medical Research Council in reducing lead exposure and preventing lead poisoning in South Africa

A Mathee, N Naicker, Y von Schirnding

Abstract


Even at low levels in blood, lead has been associated with reduced IQ scores, behavioural problems, learning impediments, aggression and violent behaviour. Since the 1980s, the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) has been investigating the sources of exposure to lead in South Africa (SA), the groups at highest risk of lead poisoning and a selection of the myriad associated health and social consequences. SAMRC research evidence contributed to the phasng out of leaded petrol, restrictions on lead in paint and other interventions. Subsequently, childhood blood lead levels in SA declined significantly. More recent studies have revealed elevated risks of lead exposure in subsistence fishing and mining communities, users of arms and ammunition, those ingesting certain traditional medicines, and users of certain ceramicware and artisanal cooking pots. Lead-related cognitive damage costs the SA economy ~USD17.7 (ZAR261.3) billion annually, justifying further SAMRC investment in lead exposure research in the country.


Authors' affiliations

A Mathee, Environment and Health Research Unit, South African Medical Research Council, Johannesburg, South Africa; Environmental Health Department, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Johannesburg, South Africa; School of Public Health, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

N Naicker, Environmental Health Department, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Johannesburg, South Africa; School of Public Health, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa; National Institute for Occupational Health, National Health Laboratory Service, Johannesburg, South Africa

Y von Schirnding, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York, USA

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Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2019;109(11b):25-29. DOI:10.7196/SAMJ.2019.v109i11b.14271

Article History

Date submitted: 2019-12-05
Date published: 2019-12-05

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