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March 2011 Newsletter

 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs calls for mercury medical device ban

South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) is recommending that the country’s Ministry of Health issue a directive to all provincial governments immediately suspending the purchase of mercury-based [1] thermometers, blood pressure devices and dental amalgam.

“This is a major step forward in the effort here in South Africa to substitute mercury-based medical devices with safe, accurate and affordable alternatives” said Rico Euripidou, Environmental Health Campaigner for groundWork [2] South Africa.

The study, entitled, “Analysis of Mercury in Health Sector,” contains a dozen recommendations one of which calls for the Ministry of Health to issue and publish regulation that would ban mercury-based medical devices across the board.

Several hospitals in South Africa, along with the Provincial government of KwaZulu Natal [3] have already made the switch, but “implementing these recommendations would result in a comprehensive national policy that would make us the African leader in mercury-free health care.”

By phasing out mercury-based medical devices South Africa would be joining the European Union, and countries ranging from the United States, to Argentina, Chile, the Philippines and Mongolia, among others, all of whom have phased-out or are in the process of phasing out mercury in their national health care systems.

“With the world’s governments negotiating a global treaty to phase-out mercury, South Africa could join a number of other countries to show how mercury substitution in the health sector can be both cost effective and a promoter of public health,” said Josh Karliner, International Coordinator with Health Care Without Harm [4], an NGO which, together with the World Health Organization runs a Global Mercury-Free Healthcare Initiative.

“We hope the Ministry of Health can respond positively to these recommendations,” said Karliner.

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Footnotes:

[1] Mercury is a heavy metal neurotoxicant. It has been an integral part of many medical devices, most prominently thermometers and blood pressure devices (sphygmomanometers). In recent decades this has led to a paradox where institutions and professionals whose mission is to heal and promote health, have been contributing to a significant global environmental health problem—mercury contamination—through the use of their health care instruments. The world’s governments have agreed to negotiate a treaty to phase out global mercury emissions.

[2] groundWork is a non-profit environmental justice service and developmental organization working primarily in South Africa but increasingly in Southern Africa. groundWork seeks to improve the quality of life of vulnerable people in South Africa, and increasingly in Southern Africa, through assisting civil society to have a greater impact on environmental governance.

[3] groundWork’s advocacy led to the first directive in South Africa in 2006 by the Department of Health in KwaZulu Natal to move away from mercury based health care instruments.

[4] Health Care Without Harm is an international coalition of 473 organizations in more than 50 countries, working to transform the health care sector so that it does no harm, and instead promotes the health of people and the environment.