oa Central African Journal of Medicine - The lead perspective in Zimbabwe: a glimpse

Volume 33, Issue 6
  • ISSN : 0008-9176



Most Zimbabwean physicians should be alert to possible lead-related symptoms amongst those known to be working with lead, but this does not carry over to patients living or working in the general environment. A study to determine a lead perspective amongst those thought not to be exposed was reduced in size and scope because of sampling problems, but information of interest and importance emerges. Of 21 subjects from whom satisfactory samples were obtained, 60 per cent had blood lead levels of less than 5µg/dl, the detection limit of the analytical method used. Among these were a number who lived in an environment which theoretically should be heavily polluted by vehicles using leaded petrol. In the rest, low-to-moderate levels were found. In some, such as in paint manufacture, this might have been expected. but higher levels were found in two rural dwellers who had never lived in or near a town. The illegally distilled spirit kachasu often causes distinctive signs and symptoms which differ from other common syndromes of alcohol excess. These are ascribed by physicians to the additives, such as petrol and battery acid which are said to be used to adulterate such brews. Of the six admitted kachasu drinkers, two had the highest levels (50-60 µg/dl) whilst the other four had no detectable level of lead. One of these had lived in a rural area all his life, whilst the other worked in paint manufacture. A third person with a blood level in this range was a non-drinker, but worked in a plumbing firm. There may be some justification for a low index of suspicion due to the generality of undetectable blood lead levels, but there are sufftcient exceptions to alert clinicians to include lead toxicity as a diagnostic possibility. A wider survey covering other areas of Zimbabwe appears to be desirable.

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