UNSAFE artisanal and small scale gold mining in many areas across the Lake Zone has led to increased prevalence of anorectic malformations among many children with over 50 of them being referred for operations at the Bugando Medical Centre (BMC) every year.
The ‘Daily News’ has details on the referrals of the children from other regional hospitals particularly Mara and Geita with known small scale mining operations coming for the specialised management called medically as Posterior Sagittal Anorectoplasty (PSARP) According to Dr William Kahabi, a General Practitioner at BMU and who has been actively engaged in attending to patients with anorectic malformations, many of the referred patients come from regions with mining activities.
“Normally this malformation affects children whose parents are greatly exposed to dangerous metals like mercury and there is no solution in sight if this local mining practice will not change,” he cautioned.
He cited Mara and Geita as some of the regions with many referrals with initial findings showing the malformation comes as a result of the patients being exposed to heavy metals like mercury largely found in local mining activities undertaken by small scale miners. Commenting on the matter, the BMC Acting Director of Surgical Services said over 50 patients are referred to the Centre every year while more than 200 are currently being attended to the special clinics.
According to Dr Massenga, this time only 10 patients have undergone the PSARP thanks to visiting medical experts from Belgium who come every year to assist in performing surgical services to the patients.
Anorectic malformation is a birth defect that effects the development of the anus while it also affects the reproductive system and its structures. Defects of the heart, kidneys, limbs, spine, and esophagus have also been associated with PSARP.
“So we have around 12 experts who had a week long mission until this Friday and in collaboration with local experts here they have performed successful operations to 10 children out of over 200 who need the service,” she said.
Dr Massenga was of the view that still local surgeons could manage attending to the patients but since they were not specialised in paediatric surgeries they could do it with limited capacity especially when it comes to attending to special cases accompanying the malformation.
She remained hopeful however, that while BMC was slowly building capacity to train its own Paediatrics Surgeons, the situation might improve in the next two years when at least two local doctors will graduate.
High cost involved in training Paediatrics Surgeons was probably one of the reasons behind the current shortage with Dr Massenga saying about 13,000 US Dollars (27m/-) was needed to train a single surgeon per year which amounts to 81m/- for the entire three year programme per surgeon.
A team leader of the medical experts from Belgium Dr Lingier Pierre said they will always be ready to assist in treating the patients suffering from the problem through a joint cooperation between BMC and his country cautioning if the usage of mercury in mining activities could be avoided.
In many countries including Tanzania, elemental mercury is used with the metal being mixed with gold-containing materials, forming a mercury-gold amalgam which is then heated, vapourising the mercury to obtain the gold. Experts however, have repeatedly cautioned the process can be very dangerous and lead to significant mercury exposure and health risks.