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Africa to push for dental amalgam phase out at Minamata Convention COP3

The African region has put its weight behind a proposal that seeks an amendment to Annex A to the Minamata Convention on Mercury by moving dental amalgam from Part ll to Part l of Annex A. The region has also said it needs more financial support to implement its obligation under the Convention particularly in introducing alternatives to the use of mercury in artisanal and small-scale gold mining which is a common practice across the continent.

Participants at the PreCOP3 in Accra, Ghana

These were part of the resolutions reached at the end of the two-day African Regional Preparatory meeting in Accra, Ghana from October 15 to 16, 2019 which the group will push at Third Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP3) to the Convention holding in November in Geneva, Switzerland.

By the amendment, the region is calling for a phase-out of dental amalgam for use in deciduous teeth, children under 15 years, pregnant women, and breastfeeding women by year 2021 as well as dental amalgam, except where no mercury-free alternatives are available by year 2024.

On May 8, 2019, six countries including Botswana, Chad, Gabon, Guinea Bissau, Niger and Senegal submitted a proposal to the Secretariat seeking to amend Annex A to the Convention by moving dental amalgam from Part ll to Part l of Annex A.

The move by the six countries received an overwhelming support by nearly 27 Parties from the African region that attended the regional preparatory meeting held in Ghana. The Secretariat has also scheduled the proposal on the agenda for consideration during COP3.

Parties that attended the Ghana meeting are Benin, Togo, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Chad, Comoros, Congo, Cameroon, Republic of Congo, Gambia, Gabon, Eswatini, Lesotho and Ghana.

Others include Nigeria, Kenya, Niger, Namibia, Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Mauritius, Mali, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The meeting was also attended by other observer groups including non-governmental organisations, United Nations agencies and the media.

To ensure that the proposal scales through during the COP, the group has set up a team to re-frame the Conference Room Paper (CRP) that will be reviewed and, once approved, would be submitted after the opening ceremony of the COP.

Co-Chair of the African group meeting, Mr. Serge Molly Allo’o, said that the meeting was an opportunity to harmonise the positions of the region before the Conference of the Parties. He added that during the meeting, the proposal submitted by six countries earlier within the region to amend Annex A of the Convention on dental amalgam received support of the region to submit it at COP3.

“The amendment of the convention on Annex A, six African countries proposed the amendment but after this meeting, we received the support of our region to submit the amendment. This amendment concerns the use of dental amalgam, it’s a big issue for the region but am very glad we receive support of the region.

“The other issue is on how to implement our obligation under the Convention, we are facing many problems like financial support and so on, but here we addressed these issues and we adopt methodologies and strategies to mobilize more funding to implement the Convention. The other issue is secretariat issue because if you read the convention, we have a team on the secretariat to manage any action to move the convention. Our view is that we do not have enough people to work in the secretariat, we need something we can put in parallel but at this point I am not in position to clarify the strategy to mobilse before the COP,” he said.

Basel Convention Coordinating Centre for the African Region expert and Professor of Chemistry, Babajide Alo, said the two-day meeting was quite productive and the African region took good positions on each of the issues particularly those that are relevant to the region’s interest.

“For example, we do know that mercury emissions from Artisanal and Small-scale Gold Mining (ASGM) is a major issue for us because, several of our countries still have extensive artisanal gold mining going on and we are taking a position that we would continue to consider minimizing the use of mercury in artisanal mining, we don’t want to get our people off their jobs and their means of livelihood and it should be a gradual face-out of the use of mercury by introducing alternatives to our mining.

On dental amalgam, Prof. Alo said, “Another key issue to us in Africa is dental amalgam, the use of amalgam in dentistry. Amalgam containing mercury in dentistry and the African group out of this meeting is taken to COP in November, the necessities for us to consider rather than phase out, that we should move it into the book of devices that we think it should be total elimination, it won’t be phase down but complete phase-out for the use of amalgam because in Africa, dental amalgams continue to be in frequent use. In fact, women and even some men take it as ornament to have gold teeth without their realizing that, that gold tooth they have, contains mercury which continue to leach gradually into their bloodstream.

“So, we from the African region have also at this meeting, unanimously agreed that we should go and push for a phase out of the use of dental amalgam rather than the phase down, which the present article of the convention stipulate. So on other issues, particularly financing, the African region has taken a position that we need more support, on special intervention projects we need more of countries that have applied for that grant to be approved so that we can continue to have intervention on mercury in our different countries,” he said.

The BCCC-Africa expert expressed optimism that the position of the African region on dental amalgam phase out will receive the support of other regions at COP3.

Vice-President Africa, World Alliance for Mercury-Free Dentistry, Dominique Kpokro, said, “One of the key achievements for the dental amalgam at this meeting is that we have the full support of all African Parties, now it is no longer the six African countries which submitted and since it’s the whole African region that will submit the amendment.

“The secretariat has suggested we should re-frame the title of the amendment so that it will not be the six African countries, and the way to do that is to write a Conference Room Paper (CRP) that will be submitted just after the opening ceremony at COP 3. So, based on that, we are going to develop a CRP and African Centre for Environmental Health, some NGO’s working under the umbrella of World Alliance for Mercury-Free Dentistry and Parties such as Senegal, Gabon, Sierra Leone, Botswana, Chad, Burkina Faso and Niger will be the countries that will review the draft CRP and after approval, it will be endorsed by the whole region at the regional meeting in Geneva.

“The amendment is going to cover the children, women in child bearing age and the request for countries to ban amalgam in children in all ages by the year 2021, which is the request of the amendment and the proposed date by African region for total ban of dental amalgam is 2024. Now, that date need to be debated by all the Parties to know what is achievable by all so that it will be an agreed document. So, we would negotiate these dates at COP3.”

The World Alliance for Mercury-Free Dentistry (WAMFD), the global advocate for mercury-free dentistry in its position on dental amalgam, said across the continent, west to east and south to north, Africans are moving toward mercury-free dentistry right now for children, and with a phase-down leading to a phase out for all.

The group said: “If amalgam is phased out, Minamata can be the model environmental treaty for the 21st century. If amalgam is not phased out, then the world is failing t address major use f mercury- and Minamata is not a model treaty. The African Amalgam Amendment, on the agenda for COP3, would bring amalgam in line with other products covered under the Minamata Convention on Mercury.”

As at Friday, October 25, 2019, 114 countries have ratified as Parties to the Convention. Out of these, African region is leading with 31 Parties to the Convention and nearly 27 of the Parties attended the regional meeting held in Ghana.

The Minamata Convention on Mercury, a global treaty that seek to protect human health and the physical environment from the dangers of emissions and releases of mercury and mercury compounds entered into force in August 2017.

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