Despite High Health Risks, Women Reluctant To Abandon Trade In Gold

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Women mining gold at the Macalder mines in Nyatike Constituency in Migori County, Western Kenya. PHOTO| FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By Daily Nation

Mary Adhiambo’s frail frame and watery eyes are the first signs of her poor health. Her heavy breathing prevents her from engaging in a lengthy talk, but the gold trade, her source of livelihood, is unforgiving. Haggling over the price is the order of the day, and she has to keep up, although it leaves her breathless.

Mercury Fumes

And when not buying the ore for resale, she can be found burning gold amalgam, which contains mercury, a heavy metal used to separate gold from dirt, but notorious for impairing the nervous system. She does this on the veranda outside the cubicle she shares with her six children.

Inhaling mercury fumes saw the mother of six admitted to Kisii Hospital in western Kenya early this year, where doctors worked to neutralise mercury overload in her body, which experienced constant shivers.

But just weeks after discharge from hospital, Adhiambo, 36, is back to the only trade she knows.

“The doctors told me it is the mercury that is affecting me. I want to stop doing this business, but not until I get an alternative. I will keep doing it because I have children to take care of,” she said. Adhiambo is just one of the hundreds of women in Nyatike Sub-county, Migori County, in western Kenya engaged in gold mining and continually exposed to debilitating health risks.

Nyalal Atieno, also an artisanal miner at Osiri Matanda, one of the major gold mining sites in Kenya, remains sickly to date, suffering regular bouts of bloody diarrhea, unexplained joint pains and general weakness. She can no longer relax at night because of persistent chest pains, heavy breathing, and fatigue.

The effects of mercury poisoning are so dire that some women bear children impaired by heavy metal. Stillbirths are also common in the area. Read more…

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