The West Africa Center for Global Environmental and Occupational Health (GEOHealth), in partnership with the College of Health Sciences and the Ministry of Health, has held the first Scientific Conference and Policy Dialogue under the theme, “Electronic Waste Recycling Activities, Environment, and Human Health”.
The conference which provided a platform for engagement by academia, policy-makers, government, decision-makers, local authorities, and other relevant stakeholders to exchange ideas on key policy implications of electronic waste(e-waste) recycling activities and their impact on the environment and human health was a two-day hybrid programme.
The Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Research, Innovation and Development, Prof. Felix Ankomah Asante, who chaired first day’s session stated that the project was in line with the University’s vision of becoming a research intensive institution. Prof. Asante indicated that it was important for the country to commit to reducing e-waste, illegal mining and other pollutants. He agreed with the relevance of the theme to national development since the environment has an impact on food production and consumption.
The Provost of the College of Health Sciences, Prof. Julius Najah Fobil, presented an overview of the project. He reiterated the importance of the project and noted that the participants of the conference would provide adequate food for thought that would guide the engagement and deliberations during the programme.
The workshop was opened by the Guest Speaker, Prof. Kwabena Frimpong Boateng, Former Minister for Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation. In his address, he focused attention on electrical and electronic waste and illegal mining. He said: “The importation of obsolete electrical and electronic equipment from industrialised countries have worsened electrical and electronic waste control and management in Ghana. E-waste has now become the fastest growing component of municipal solid waste”.
Prof. Boateng also mentioned Government’s agreement with the German government on providing technical and financial cooperation to curb the e-waste situation in the country.
On illegal mining, the Guest Speaker noted that the harmful effects of calcium, lead, cadmium, arsenic, chromium, antimony and mercury are toxic metals when a person is exposed to any of them. Prof. Boateng declared that mercury vapour through inhalation can cause memory and speech loss, numbness, vision problems, convulsion, and in some cases, death.
Prof. Kwabena Frimpong Boateng in a picture with Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Research, Innovation and Development, Prof. Felix Ankomah Asante, Provost of the College of Health Sciences, Prof. Julius Najah Fobil and Rev. Prof. P.F.K. Ayeh-Kumi, former Provost of the College of Health Sciences
Delivering the address as Chairman at the policy dialogue on the second day of the conference, Prof. Kwabena Frimpong Boateng indicated that the discussion on ‘policy dialogue’ was very essential in addressing the problems that come with managing e-waste. “The problems we have with implementation and managing the e-waste is because we didn’t have a policy before the laws were implemented”, he added. He encouraged a change in the research methodology used in addressing problems on e-waste management. He stated that even though the scrap dealers at Agbogbloshie may have vacated the area, the problems with e-waste still compounds, thus the need to find ways to examine the situation before finding solutions.
The Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Nana Aba Appiah Amfo, highlighted the dangers individuals and communities in the low-to-middle income regions get exposed to, due to the rapidly growing unofficial economic sector activities. “Diseases related to environmental and occupational exposures are among the major contributors to the global burden of diseases believed to be increasing disproportionately in lower-to-middle income countries due to rapidly growing informal sector activities believed to be highly pervasive”, she stated.
Prof. Amfo called on African scientists to conduct high quality research that will provide the needed guidance to support a health policy. She expressed hope that discussions at the conference would provide the platform to uptake research finding policy to help deal with the challenges.
The Guest of Honor, Dr. Francis Chisaka Kisoolo, World Health Organization (WHO) Country Representative for Ghana, in a speech read on his behalf, expressed concern over the swift rate of improper e-waste recycling in Ghana and it dangers. He noted that there is a wide gap between the amount of e-waste produced and the e-waste that is properly recycled. “Despite the wide amount of e-waste that is generated, only 17.74% was recorded as being properly collected, treated and recycled”, he stated. Dr. Kisoolo pointed out that West Africa is the major destination for e-waste originating from Europe even though many of these African countries do not have the infrastructure and management facilities to handle large amounts of e-waste containing Hazards.
He emphasised the need to ensure that e-waste workers, families and communities are protected from hazardous substances, while they continue to have a source of income. “Ghana has one of the largest informal e-waste sites in West Africa ... an estimate of 25,000 tons of e-waste is dumped there and it is home to thousands of people. Estimates have been made to assist the number of people working with e-waste ever since statistics suggested that 216,000 across Ghana including families and children depended on e-waste recycle management for support’, he said.
Dr. Marie Noel Brune Drisse, Technical Officer, Children’s Environment, WHO, highlighted the health outcomes of improper recycling of e-waste and some findings on studies conducted on e-waste policy in Africa. She underscored policy recommendation at the global, national and local levels. At the national level, Dr. Drisse supported the elimination of child labor. She pushed for the ratification, enforcement and implementation of existing conventions. She recommended actions to be taken in the health sector as a way of addressing the challenges associated with e-waste and urged citizens to get engaged in dealing with the e-waste challenge.
Dr. Andrew Ayim, Deputy Director, Policy, Planning and Evaluation, Ghana Health Service, who stood in as the chair of the event, in his closing remarks stressed the importance of sharing the outcome of the conference with a wider audience especially those who will translate the scientific knowledge into work on the ground.
Participants at the conference were given the opportunity to dialogue and share their understanding and solutions to addressing the challenges with e-waste.
Present at the conference were Mr. Markus Spitzbart, Deutsche Gesellschaft für International (GIZ); Prof. Niladri Basu, Principal Investigator, GEOHealth II and Prof. Thomas Robins, Principal Investigator, GEOHealth III.
The others were Hon. Dr. Emmanuel Marfo, Parliamentary Select Committee Chair on Environment, Science and Technology; Hon. Adamu Ramadan, Member of Parliament, Adenta Constituency; Madam Vivian Ahiayibor, Managing Director and Mr. Jurgen Meinel, Technical Director, both of City Waste; Mr. John Pwamang, Ghana Environmental Protection Agency; Mrs. Lydia Essuah, Director, Policy, Planning and Evaluation, Ministry of Environment, Science and Technology; Alhaji Shaibu, Chairman, E-waste Association of Ghana and Mr. Ussif Mahama, Vice-Chair, E-waste Association of Ghana, Mrs. Elizier T. Ameyaw-Buronyah, Director, Public Affairs Directorate, staff of the College of Health Sciences, graduate students of the School of Public Health as well as other members of the University community.