Africans say NO to Mercury

25 October 2007 - African delegates have resolved to move away from mercury-containing health care equipment and products containing mercury and call on African governments to develop policies that will phase out the use of mercury in hospitals and other health institutions in the region.

Mercury, which is present in thermometers, pressure devices and other medical equipment, is a neurotoxin and crosses the placenta barrier impacting upon foetuses.

On 24 and 25 October 2007 [1], 85 delegates including physicians, nurses (occupational and infection control), environmental and health specialists from the public and private medical sector, including health technologists, microbiologists, procurement officers, and nursing unions from the SADC, East African and West African Region, met in Johannesburg and passed the Johannesburg Mercury in Health Care Declaration [2]. The conference was hosted by groundWork [3], Friends of the Earth, South Africa and Health Care Without Harm [4], in association with the United Nations Environmental Programme.

Dr Aquina Thulare, Secretary General and Chief Executive Officer of the South African Medical Association (SAMA), a national Association and a trade union and professional association that represents more than 70% of practicing physicians in South Africa, says "SAMA provides a good local springboard for the successful phase out of mercury in health care".

Jamie Harvie, Executive Director, Institute for a Sustainable Future, based out of Minnesota in the United States, who is a technical advisor to Health Care Without Harm (HCWH), says:
"African delegates, like their SE Asian and Latin American contemporaries in previous regional conferences, have clearly demonstrated a strong commitment to phasing out mercury in healthcare."

Jabu Nene, former Head of Infection Control at Ngwelezane Hospital and long term advocate for improved health care waste management in KZN, said "We are already mercury free at Ngwelezane and I hope this gathering gives other institutions the confidence and evidence to move towards mercury free healthcare".


For more information

[1] See Press Release dated 15 Ocober 2007

[2] Johannesburg Declaration on Mercury-Free Health Care:

25th October 2007

Aware that Mercury is a bio-accumulative global toxicant and hence poses an acute threat to health care workers, patients, and ultimately a long-term persistent threat to the global

Understanding that healthcare contributes to the global mercury problem through broken and discarded mercury containing medical devices;

Appreciating UNEP's efforts to promote mercury-use reduction and that WHO has issued a policy promoting the elimination of mercury in the health care sector;

Noting that in the US and Europe mercury-based medical devices have been phased out; that the European Union is developing a mercury export ban; and that several health care systems in Asia and Latin America are phasing out mercury.

Noting further the existing successful local initiatives in the African region to phase out mercury containing devices.

Mindful of the challenge that the awareness level of decision makers, health workers and the general public, regarding the impacts of mercury on environment and human health is very low;

Worried that Africa may ultimately become a dumping ground of banned mercury containing devices; and Comforted by the fact that affordable, effective and accurate mercury-free alternatives are available.

We, the participants in the First Southern Africa Conference on Promoting Alternatives to Mercury in the Health Care Sector, commit ourselves to

Raise awareness by providing information, education and training to decision makers, health care workers, and the community, focusing on the impacts of mercury and the need to replace it.

Advocate/lobby for appropriate regulation, legislation and enforcement of mercury-free health care (mercury use phase out) at the national, provincial and local levels.

In the short term promote/advocate for the planned and progressive replacement of mercury containing instruments and devices used by the health care sector; and for cleaning up
mercury contaminated areas-- starting from our work places, and moving up to the local, provincial and national levels.

Create National, Regional/Sub-Regional networks for mercury-free initiatives as well as platforms for sharing knowledge, experiences, technologies and expertise in mercury-free health care devices.

Conduct monitoring and evaluation of progress on implementation.

Develop and offer courses on environmental and occupational health--with particular focus on mercury use--to practicing nurses, doctors, environmental health advocates and health care
workers in general.

Advocate for the incorporation of environmental and occupational health--with particular focus to mercury use--into education curricula at all levels,

Promote mercury-free health care research and share results in order to achieve fast mercury elimination and its replacement with safer alternatives.

Promote the creation of infrastructure to adequately manage and dispose of mercury waste.

Strongly advocate for Extended Producer Responsibility for mercury-based medical devices.

Collaborate with industries that produce economically viable mercury-free health care devices.

Change purchasing patterns in health care institutions, by phasing-in mercury-free medical devices. Lobby governments to introduce tax incentives to promote mercury-free medical devices.

At Regional and Sub-Regional level, advocate and promote Government collaborative efforts to protect the region from turning into a dumping ground of mercury containing health care
devices. In this aspect, sensitize the Africa/SADC Health and Environmental Ministers to take up this matter in their regular meetings as a matter of urgency.

At a global level, strongly advocate for an international legally binding instrument to regulate production, trade and use of mercury, and mercury containing products, as well as to promote
the transfer of mercury-free technologies.

Urge African delegates to the forthcoming UNEP Ad-Hoc Open Ended Working Group meeting in Bangkok (12-16 November 2007) to have a common stand in favour of a legally binding instrument.

[3] groundWork is a environmental justice organisation working with community people from around South Africa and increasingly in Southern Africa on environmental justice and human rights issues focusing on Air Pollution, Waste (including Health Care Waste) and Corporate Abuse. groundWork is a member of Health Care Without Harm.

[4] Health Care Without Harm is a global campaign with more than 440 members in 52 countries dedicated to environmentally
responsible health care (