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December 3, 2018

Mercury-free healthcare initiative on the cards


December 3, 2018

Islamabad : Realising that the exposure to mercury is injurious to health, the federal government is planning to embark on a countrywide initiative to free health facilities from the equipment and products made of the silvery toxic metal.

Under the Mercury-Free Healthcare Programme being developed by the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination in consultation with stakeholders, all mercury-containing medical devices will be phased out by 2020 with their safe alternatives coming in protect the people from the devastating health consequences from mercury.

Currently, mercury is used in dental amalgam (fillings), thermometers, blood pressure devices, fixatives, preservatives, lab chemicals, cleaners and other medical products through the World Health Organisation identifies it as one of the top 10 chemicals, which can endanger and harm health.

According to the UN agency, which coordinates international health activities and helps governments improve health services, mercury can have significant harmful effects on the nervous, digestive and immune system and on lungs and kidneys, and its excess exposure can be even fatal. It is known to be extremely harmful to the foetus and if exposed to even its low doses in the womb, the developing baby can experience intellectual delays and problems during childhood.

Under the health ministry’s initiative, policy guidelines will be developed for stakeholders on how to phase out mercury-based products, while a complete ban will be slapped on the use of mercury-containing amalgam for restorative dental care.

Also, the medical and dental colleges’ curriculum will be changed accordingly; strict regulations and legislation will be introduced on the use of mercury in cosmetics and fairness creams, and a nationwide campaign will be begun to raise public awareness of the hazards of mercury-based products and equipment.

National health services and regulations minister Aamer Mehmood Kiani is understood to have directed the relevant officers lately to turn the programme, his brainchild, into a reality without delay saying this will help further the cause of healthcare in the country as promised by the ruling PTI.

Experts welcome the ministry’s plans saying their successful execution will go a long way in protecting the people from the devastating health consequences from mercury.

Dr Wasim Khwaja of the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences said mercury dispersed into and remained in ecosystems for generations and thus, causing severe health and intellectual impairment to the exposed populations.

“The mercury discarded and spilled by healthcare settings makes its way into the environment, where it methylises and bio-accumulates in the food supply negatively impacting human and environmental health,” he said. The gastroenterologist said the removal of mercury-containing devices and products from hospitals and clinics would prevent doctors, health workers and patients from the potentially highly toxic levels of elemental mercury.

Noted dental surgeon Dr Pakiza Hyder hailed the proposed ban on mercury dental fillings saying it will protect patients from poisoning, exhaustion, emotional disturbance and high blood pressure.

“Mercury is used in fillings commonly known as silver fillings. It is mixed with silver and copper to form a durable mixture to lock in the quicksilver. However, it is seen that toxic mercury vapours leak and travel throughout the body before being deposited in vital organs and causing multiple health problems,” she said.

Regretting the rampant use of mercury fillings by hospitals and clinics, the dental surgeon strongly felt that better public awareness was the best way to turn Pakistan into a mercury hazard-free country.

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