Nigeria’s efforts to protect human health and the environment from anthropogenic emissions and releases of mercury and mercury compounds has received a boost, thanks to the emergence of a policy document that aims to phase down the use of dental amalgam.
Dental amalgam is a mercury-added product containing about 50 per cent of mercury, forming a metallic alloy with silver and tin. It is widely used in the restoration of teeth affected by dentists, but it is said to be harmful to health and the environment.
The policy document, which is being given finishing touches, is tagged “National Policy on Phase- Down of Dental Amalgam in Nigeria” and its objective is to phase down the use of dental amalgam in vulnerable groups by June 2020 and phase out in all age groups by 2022 on a consensus-based timetable.
At a Steering Committee meeting on development of the National Policy held in Abuja on Tuesday, July 23, 2019 and facilitated by the Federal Ministry of Health in conjunction with Federal Ministry of Environment in partnership with Sustainable Research and Action for Environmental Development (SRADev Nigeria) and US-based World Alliance for Mercury Free Dentistry, stakeholders reviewed and made recommendations to the draft document.
In an address, Director, Dental Services, Federal Ministry of Health, Dr. B.O. Alonge, provided an overview of mercury as a toxic substance posing a global threat, noting the damaging effects on health and environment. She noted that the Minamata Convention on Mercury calls for a phase down and subsequently a phase out of the use of dental amalgam, in respect of which Nigeria is taking steps in that direction.
She added that Nigeria is a Party to the convention and the ministry initiated the process of developing a National Policy on dental amalgam phase down in line with the Convention objective.
A representative of the Federal Ministry of Environment who is a Deputy Director, Mr. Olubunmi Olusanya, said dental amalgam phase down is a cross-cutting issue which the ministry has carried along all the parastatals under it towards ensuring that they are all well informed including the private sector.
He explained that the ministry has been fully involved in the process right from the onset leading to the signing in 2013 and ratification of the Convention in 2018.
Olusanya added that Nigeria was the first country to conduct the Minamata Initial Assessment (MIA) report in the world, which was completed in 2018 and received commendation from the international community on it.
He listed several other efforts that the ministry has made as the Secretariat of the Minamata Convention since the country ratified the Convention last year.
Regional Environment Expert, United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) Mr. Oluyomi Banjo, in a goodwill message commended the cooperation between the Federal Ministry of Health and Environment on the Minamata Convention on Mercury, adding that the cooperation led to Nigeria being the first to successfully complete the Minamata Initial Assessment (MIA).
“This would not have been possible without the cooperation of the two ministries,” Banjo stated.
Banjo urged the two ministries to ensure that the cooperation continues in the implementation stage of the Minamata Convention, stressing that the MIA had earned Nigeria recognition in the international community which others are now following.
He added that Nigeria has made a lot of progress in the phase down of dental amalgam and in the mining sector to eliminate mercury pollution.
President, Nigeria Dental Association (NDA), Dr Omoshibo Eshikena, said the association has being part of the process for implementation on the phase down of dental amalgam in the country.
Eshikena, who expressed her delight on the development of the policy, expressed the hope that Nigeria will soon be mercury free.
In a goodwill message, Vice President Africa for World Alliance for Mercury-Free Dentistry (WAMFD), Mr. Dominique Bally, commended Nigeria for the efforts towards making dental amalgam history in the country.
He explained that, like all the countries that participated in the negotiations of the Minamata Convention on Mercury and even those who have not ratified it, is clear that the question of dental amalgam elimination remained one of the priorities for Africa.
Bally, who extended the greetings of the WAMFD president, Charlie Brown, to the meeting said, “Nigeria has not been left out of this whole process. Indeed, it was here in 2014 that African civil society organisations enacted the Abuja Declaration calling on Africa to be the first continent to eliminate mercury amalgam in dentistry. Since then, how many activities have not been carried out to achieve this noble goal that protects the health of our valiant populations who are longing to live in a healthy environment, which is a mercury-free one.
“Today’s meeting is intended primarily to bring to the table the finalisation of the policy documents leading Nigeria to achieve the dental mercury elimination in a very short time, starting with children under 15 years old and women of childbearing age,” he said.
Bally, an Ivorian, said the Africa region has rightly submitted, through the governments of Gabon, Guinea, Senegal, Niger, Madagascar and South Africa, a proposal for an amendment of Annex A, Part II, of the Minamata Convention with a view to reaching a precise date for the banning of dental amalgam in children and women of childbearing age at the Minamata Convention COP3.
“In my turn, I would like to call on the Government of Nigeria to take ownership of this proposed amendment so that Africa speaks with one voice, as it has always been, and whose palpable example goes back to this vibrant echo calling for consideration of pollution questions and public health ones generated by dental amalgam at COP 2 in 2018,” Bally added.
Erudite scholar and Professor of Chemistry, Babajide Alo, said Nigeria is leading globally in the process of eliminating dental amalgam through the submission of MIA in 2018.
He stressed that the “Abuja Declaration” in 2014 is widely recognised and that the country is making progress in the phase down of dental amalgam. He urged dental practitioners to change to the alternatives to amalgam, which he said it will take time but “it is achievable because there are alternatives to amalgam”.
In a communiqué, the committee unanimously agreed that, in alignment with global standard documents, the national policy should be further updated to drive the phase down of amalgam use in Nigeria as a road map and implementation plan.
The National Policy draft was developed by former Dean, Faculty of Dental Sciences, College of Medicine of the University of Lagos, Prof. Godwin Arotiba. In a vote of thanks to the committee members, Executive Director of SRADev Nigeria, Dr. Leslie Adogame, commended them for their commitment towards the project as well as the support of WAMFD for making the meeting possible.