The ministry of Health in Uganda has indicated that it plans to phase out the use of devices containing mercury.
The decision follows a World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendation over the use of mercury, which it says is highly toxic and could produce a range of adverse human health effects, including permanent damage to the nervous system.
The world health governing body has recommended a reduction in the use of devices containing mercury over the next few years before adopting a ban in the long term.
Dr Jancinto Amandwa, the Commission in charge of Clinical Services, told the Press this week that the ministry has initiated controls intended to reduce the use of health equipment containing mercury such as thermometers, blood pressure devices and gastrointestinal devices among others.
He also says the chemical was widely used as a dental amalgam for filling tooth but explained that this was free of danger because it’s mixed with lead, another metal that neutralises its negative effects.
Dr Amandwa explained that besides phasing out the devices containing mercury, they would also improve on measures to handle the chemical in emergency situations such as spillage.
In January, several countries formed the Minamata Convention on Mercury, a legally binding treaty with intentions to reduce the use of mercury. As part of the treaty, governments agreed to ban the production, import and export of a range of products containing mercury by the year 2020. The products include thermometers, blood pressure devices, dental fillings using mercury amalgam, certain types of batteries, fluorescent bulbs, soaps and cosmetics.
Achim Steiner, the UN Under Secretary General and Executive Director of UN Environment Program that convened the January Convention, said everyone including the families of small scale miners who are believed to suffer the most from exposure to mercury, would benefit from the treaty.
David Lennet, from Zero Mercury Working Group, a global coalition of environmental NGOs, explained that the treaty would not immediately reduce mercury use but it was a starting point to make all fish safe to eat. It’s feared that deposits of mercury could end up in the wetland, the main water bodies and into the fish, which is consumed by many.