School children displaying flyers with messages on dangers of lead in products
Since October 2023, Young Volunteers for the Environment (YVE) an NGO operating in Cameroon, has been visiting schools in Yaoundé to raise awareness among pupils, teachers and parents of the dangers of lead in the environment, particularly in paint.
The initiative is part of the celebrations for the 11th International Lead Poisoning Prevention Action Week, which takes place in the last week of October each year. This year’s theme was “Protect children, eliminate lead in paint”.
Lead is a heavy metal classified as a chemical substance of health and environmental concern by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Lead can cause serious health problems, especially in children and women of childbearing age. It can affect the development of the brain and nervous system, leading to behavioural, learning and memory problems, as well as anaemia, convulsions and even death in the very young. Lead can be found in the air, water, soil and food. Although it is present in very small quantities in the environment, the main sources of lead emissions that compromise our health and that of our living environment are lead batteries that are no longer in use, certain cosmetic products, carburettors, etc. These are all sources of lead.
According to the WHO, around 600,000 children die every year as a result of exposure to lead, and millions more suffer permanent disabilities. The WHO therefore recommends eliminating lead in paint, which is one of the main sources of lead exposure for children.
It was against this backdrop that the Cameroonian government, via an order issued by MINEPDED, banned the production, import and marketing of lead paints throughout Cameroon in September 2017. In response to the failure to comply with this measure, YVE has launched a school caravan against lead poisoning, aimed at informing and training those involved in education about the risks associated with lead and how to prevent them.
On 25 October 2023, YVE teams visited ‘Les Jeunes Leaders private secular school in Mimboman’, where they organised information and training sessions on the harmful effects of lead on health, particularly on the development of children’s brains and nervous systems.
YVE’s Executive Director, Blondel Silenou, said “The aim of this action was to explain to children and women why it is important to avoid all exposure to lead, and how this can be done”. On this occasion, he pleaded with the school headmaster to take this dimension into account when choosing paints for the new buildings under construction and expressed the hope that lead-free paints would be preferred. He also stressed the need to build the capacity of teachers so that they can act as relays to amplify the message to children and their parents.
The pupils took an active part in the sessions, asking questions and drawing pictures on the theme of environmental protection. They also received brochures, posters and stickers with messages on the dangers of lead and how to protect themselves.
The school caravan against lead poisoning continued until 28 October 2023, visiting other schools in Yaoundé. In this way, YVE hopes to help raise awareness and mobilise the educational community to eliminate lead from paint and promote a healthy and safe environment for children.