During the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Samantha Power announced $1.1 million to survey blood lead levels in children under five years of age in Bangladesh through UNICEF’s 2024 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey. Children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of lead poisoning. Administrator Power also called for more resources and action toward this widely neglected, yet highly tractable issue affecting one in two children in low- and middle-income countries.
“This initiative is an important step in measuring the extent to which lead exposure affects Bangladeshi children, and mobilizing action to protect kids and adults across the country from this toxic substance,” said USAID Mission Director Reed Aeschliman.
Globally, lead poisoning kills at least 1.6 million people each year – more than mortality caused by HIV and malaria combined, with the vast majority of these deaths in low- and middle- income countries. Lead is a potent neurotoxin with no safe level of exposure, and lead poisoning can cause severe brain damage, impairing educational attainment and reducing future productivity. Lead exposure may account for upwards of one fifth of the educational gap between rich and poor countries, and creates at least a $1 trillion drag on the global economy. Despite all of this, funding by donors toward lead mitigation efforts in low- and middle-income countries amounts to approximately $15 million per year.
Administrator Power advocated for a global drive to support low- and middle-income countries in rolling out and enforcing binding regulations to curtail lead in consumer goods like paint, spices, and cosmetics. These actions alone have the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives each year, as well as prevent cognitive impairments and improve educational outcomes for hundreds of millions of children. Notably, burgeoning efforts toward removing lead from consumer products are highly cost-effective, reflecting an outsized opportunity to save many lives with limited funding.
In line with this goal, Administrator Power also announced that USAID will join the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead Paint, a partnership that has catalyzed legally binding controls on lead paint in almost 40 countries. This makes USAID the first bilateral development agency to join the Alliance, where it will partner with other U.S. government agency members like the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
USAID’s efforts reflect President Biden and Vice President Harris’s vision for a lead-free future, and the Biden-Harris Administration’s priority to protect all communities from lead exposure, both in the United States and around the world.