The economics of lead-induced infant intelligence

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Globally, Bangladesh is one of South Asia’s fastest growing economies. Bangladesh has maintained an inspiring record of growth and poverty reduction for the past two decades, which is supported by a demographic dividend, increased life expectancy, increased literacy and many other indicators. With globalization, Bangladesh also faces challenges to tackle environmental pollution and related health issues. Currently, Bangladeshi children suffer from severe exposure to lead during childhood, as confirmed by several epidemiological and biomedical research. According to the Institute of Health Metric and Evaluation (IHME), Bangladesh ranks first among the most affected countries in the world. An estimated 36 million Bangladeshi children (about 60 percent of the total) have alarming levels of lead in their blood (over 5 micrograms per deciliter). This higher level of lead in the blood has been recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a major cause of brain damage and loss of IQ. The impacts of lead exposure can significantly affect the general health, social well-being and future economic prosperity of the Bangladeshi people and therefore require increased attention and investment from the government. , related industries, civil society and the country’s development partners.

Lead has been shown to be harmful, especially for children. Childhood lead exposure can have life-threatening consequences, including reduced neurodevelopment leading to permanent decrease in intelligence, lower educational attainment, higher rates of juvenile delinquency and incarceration and reduced income over life. The average concentration of lead in a child’s blood in Bangladesh is estimated to be one of the highest in the world, around 7.5 micrograms per deciliter (? G / dL). At this high level, it would be reasonable to anticipate significant reductions in intelligence quotient (IQ) over time among the tens of millions of chronically exposed Bangladeshi children. According to the IHME, in 2019, lead exposure resulted in over 38,000 deaths (3.6% of all deaths) and loss of 690,000 healthy years of life in Bangladesh. Today, the death rate from lead exposure in Bangladesh exceeds the death rate from unsanitary water-borne diseases and air pollution. Low levels of lead affect children’s IQ, attention span, and academic performance. Pervasive lead exposure in children not only results in negative health effects, but also inhibits economic growth, as they are less likely to contribute to society than young people of the same age. All these factors also lead to an increase in health expenditure; therefore, a major opportunity cost may be considered for this avoidable condition. Preventive measures can contribute to overall economic development, which is a critical need for the country. According to a conservative estimate by the World Health Organization (WHO), the decrease in intelligence attributable to each 1 µg / dl increase in blood lead level is 0.25 IQ points, and the decrease in economic productivity lifetime associated with each lost IQ point is 2.4 percent. Using this “conservative estimate” and an average blood lead level in children of 7.5 micrograms per deciliter, Bangladesh could currently face a decline in the economic productivity of the general population of 4.5% per year. Bangladesh is losing US $ 15.9 billion in GDP due to productivity losses resulting from the drop in IQ due to exposure to lead. This economic loss does not include loss of income due to illnesses attributable to lead, health care costs, loss of income due to premature death, loss of tax income due to illegal recycling of lead-acid batteries. waste acid (ULAB) or other economic impacts. The World Health Organization has concluded that the economic benefits of interventions to prevent lead exposure far outweigh their costs. Therefore, this economic loss due to lead exposure is staggering and requires special attention.

As described in the “8th Five Year Plan July 2020 – June 2025: Promoting Prosperity and Fostering Inclusion” (8FYP), Bangladesh’s desire is to achieve upper middle income status by 2031. For achieve the goal, the General Economic Division (GED) of the Government of Bangladesh has set many ambitious goals related to poverty reduction, income inequality, employment opportunities, education, public health and, ultimately, to the country’s overall economic growth. The best available data suggests that these goals are currently compromised by various obstacles, including widespread lead poisoning in children, and therefore, addressing the issue of lead poisoning may advance various of our priorities. Given the extraordinary health and economic toll of lead exposures in Bangladesh, a sustained and coordinated national risk reduction strategy is essential.

Dr Mahfuzar Rahman is the Country Director of Pure Earth Bangladesh

He can be contacted at [email protected]


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