The Ministry of Health and the Ghana Health Service are making a strong case for the phasing out/down of mercury use in Ghana’s health system.
They are advocating the disuse of instruments like mercury thermometers and their proper disposal when they get broken.
This has become necessary because of the adverse effects of mercury exposure to the health of human beings.
The inhalation of mercury vapour which can only be observed under special light when the substance is exposed to the air can produce harmful effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, lungs and kidneys, and may be fatal.
The inorganic salts of mercury are corrosive to the skin, eyes, and gastrointestinal tract, and may induce kidney toxicity if ingested.
It is for this reason that Ghana became a signatory to the Minamata Convention in 2014.
Major highlights of the Minamata Convention include a ban on new mercury mines, the phase-out of existing ones, the phase-out and phase-down of mercury use in a number of products and processes, control measures on emissions to air and on releases to land and water, and the regulation of the informal sector of artisanal and small-scale gold mining.
The Convention also addresses its disposal once it becomes waste, sites contaminated by mercury as well as health issues.
Another aspect of mercury use in the health sector is in dental amalgams which is a filling material used to fill cavities caused by tooth decay.
This is done by producing a paste via the mixing of mercury with a special power to fill holes in a tooth. In the end, it releases low levels of mercury in the form of a vapor that can be inhaled and absorbed by the lungs, causing more health complications.
For Dr. Carl Osei from the Ghana Health Service, small changes can be made to eradicate mercury from the country’s health system.
“We want to phase out the mercury thermometers for infrared radiation digital thermometers. For dentistry, we want to phase down amalgam, reduce it or look for alternatives but we encourage people not to even develop cavities in the first place” he said.
He made these comments at a stakeholder consultative meeting on the Minamata Convention on phasing out/down of mercury in Ghana’s health sector held in Accra on Wednesday, November 17, 2021.