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Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention

Despite clear evidence of harm, many countries do not monitor lead exposure, and only 43% of countries have limits on lead in paint that are legally binding.

Why It Matters

  • 1 in 3 of the world's children have elevated blood levels at or above WHO health-based guidelines
  • 63% of preventable intellectual disabilities are caused by lead exposure in childhood.
  • $1.4 Tn $1.4 trillion - The estimated economic losses in low- and middle-income countries due to childhood lead exposure.

Our Current Focus

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Lead is a potent neurotoxin that the body stores over a lifetime. It can severely affect the mental and physical functioning of children and the health of adults. The burden on health care systems and loss of human potential also affects the economic development of nations. Despite clear evidence of harm, lead is still widely used due to its desirable chemical and physical properties and just 43% of countries have legally binding limits on lead in paint.

Vital’s lead poisoning prevention program focuses on protecting children from lead poisoning. Children are particularly vulnerable to lead poisoning because they absorb far more lead from their environments than adults and because their brains are under fast development. Damage to a child’s health caused by lead exposure happens at a very low level and can be lifelong. We prioritize work in countries with some of the highest health and social costs of lead exposure but limited resources to address the issue.

Around the world, our diverse team of researchers, analysts, and communication and policy experts work closely with government and civil society. We collaborate closely with policy- makers and stakeholders to strengthen the public health system to prevent lead poisoning by designing active surveillance systems, identifying key sources, compiling and analyzing critical data, reimagining clinical guidance, building capacity, raising awareness, and advocating for effective policies.

Our Expertise

Design and implementation of blood lead level surveillance

Vital has supported governments and organizations to initiate surveillance systems that help characterize the lead poisoning problem and inform policy actions, bringing strong expertise in environmental health surveillance to well-established government and technical partnerships.

In Peru, Vital partnered with the Ministry of Health of Peru and its National Center for Disease Control and Prevention to design and launch the first national surveillance, which tested blood lead levels in over 1,000 children. In Bihar state, India, nearly 700 children were tested to understand the baseline blood lead levels and leading determinants of lead exposure among young children and pregnant women. Surveillance efforts are being expanded to Colombia, Indonesia, and other Indian states (e.g., Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra).

Adoption of guidelines on clinical management of lead exposure

Vital is working with experts and health authorities to establish, adopt and update guidelines for physicians to provide better care for children and pregnant women exposed to lead. Vital helps countries adapt and adopt the WHO guidelines and integrate risk assessment/screening tools (e.g., parental questionnaires, existing data on sources of lead exposure) to ensure implementation in low-resource settings.

In Indonesia, through a partnership with UNICEF Indonesia, Vital worked with local experts to develop Indonesia’s first national clinical guidelines on managing lead exposure among children and pregnant women. In Peru, Vital worked with the Ministry of Health to update the clinical guidelines that were published in 2007.

Communication and capacity building

Vital strives to increase understanding of lead poisoning among health professionals and the general public through training and communication campaigns.

In Indonesia, Vital provided training for medical students on lead poisoning with the Center for Indonesia Medical Students’ Activities and advocated for its inclusion in the medical curriculum. In two regions affected by lead pollution, the regencies of Bogor and Tegal, Vital comprehensively evaluated communities’ perception and knowledge of lead and designed a communication campaign with the community to increase knowledge about lead and promote actions to protect people from lead exposure.

Public health and environmental governance and enforcement

Vital uses local data and works with government partners to transform scientific knowledge into actionable policies and plans.

In Peru, Vital helped the government integrate and display data on lead levels in water, soil, and air, industrial activity related to lead, human exposure data, and health consequences related to lead across the country. We provided critical technical inputs and facilitated progress on two laws that regulated lead in paint and strengthened care for heavy metal poisoning. In Indonesia, Vital published a policy brief outlining the problem of lead poisoning with policy recommendations. The governments in Bogor and Tegal also developed detailed local action plans for reducing lead exposure with support from Vital.

Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Resources