African governments, dentists, and consumers are increasingly turning against the use of dental amalgam, the highly controversial dental fillings material that is 50% mercury.
In 2006, Dr. Myron Wentz authored A Mouth Full of Poison, a book condemning toxic mercury-based dental amalgam and calling for an end to its use. His subsequent economic successes as founder of USANA Health Sciences have permitted him to transform this idea into action: he has fully funded the African campaign of the World Alliance for Mercury-Free Dentistry for the last four years.
According to Charles G. Brown, president of the World Alliance for Mercury-Free Dentistry, “Because of Dr. Wentz’s support, the campaign for mercury-free dentistry has active campaigns in 20 African countries, with an excellent and energetic nonprofit environmental group partner in each. Many countries have ended amalgam in selected uses, such as in children, the military, and private hospitals, and should soon be following Tanzania which has issued a complete phase-out timeline. Dental school curriculum updates emphasizing alternatives to amalgam have occurred across the continent. And this year we expanded into Portuguese-speaking countries and into the key nations of Egypt and South Africa.”
The African continent has united at the international level, proposing an amendment to the Minamata Convention on Mercury that calls for a four-step phase-out in the use of dental amalgam worldwide. The African Amalgam Amendment will be the subject of hot debate at the upcoming 4th Conference of the Parties in Indonesia in March 2022.
Dr. Wentz states, “I am proud to have played a role in transforming an idea into reality to the enormous benefit of the African people and their next generation of children.”
Ahead of the second segment in-person meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Minamata Convention on mercury that will take place in Bali, Indonesia in March 2022, the African Region has requested to be given the option of coming to Bali two days in advance for regional consultations.
According to them, while there is time on Sunday before COP 4.2 for in person regional consultations, this won’t be sufficient given the scope and complexity of issues to be discussed at COP 4.2. Moreover, the one-day will also be devoted to cross-regional consultations, which provides even less time for internal regional discussions on issues to get ready.
In a statement signed by Baro Roger on behalf of the African region addressed to the President of the 4th Conference of the Parties to the Minamata Convention on Mercury and the Executive Secretary of the Convention at the close of the online segment of the meeting on Friday 5 November 2021, said “As we do not have much time between now and the in-person COP in Indonesia in March 2022, preparatory work for the items on the agenda must begin immediately.
“The African region is of the view that the proposed agenda for COP 4.2 should be upheld to avoid delaying important decisions that need to be taken on key technical issues such as on effective evaluation, releases of mercury, the various Annex A/B amendments, mercury wastes thresholds, artisanal small-scale goldmining, financial resources and mechanism, HS Codes, etc.
“While we must begin this preparatory work immediately, our reliance on online consultations as preparation for the in-person COP is very challenging and won’t be effective for some regions, given serious connectivity issues, and the challenges of holding long online meetings.
“While there is time on Sunday before COP 4.2 for in person regional consultations, this won’t be sufficient given the scope and complexity of issues to be discussed at COP 4.2, some of which we have outlined above. Moreover, this one-day will also be devoted to cross-regional consultations, which provides even less time for internal regional discussions on issues to get ready.
“To minimize expenses, we believe it would be good for the African Region to be given the option of coming to Bali two days in advance for in person regional consultations,” he said.
Baro who commended the president and the secretariat for effectively hosting the online segment noted that it was not easy owing to the technical challenges posed by hosting online participants from different parts of the world.
“These challenges have made it very clear that it is almost impossible to negotiate and take important COP decisions through online meetings. However, we also note that despite these challenges, COP 4.1 has made some progress on urgent issues that needed to be discussed such as on the date of the fifth meeting of the Conference of the Parties, proposals and consultations on effective evaluation and financial resources among others. This progress allows all parties to be committed to the continued implementation of the convention.”
He disclosed that the region submitted two proposed amendments to Annex A, to be considered during the in-person COP in Bali. One on lighting and one on dental amalgam. The African region has determined that nearly all mercury-containing fluorescent lamps can now be phased-out, along with mercury-containing dental amalgams, helping to transition Africa and the world to toxics-free, energy efficient lighting and dental practices. These amendments represent one of many steps being taken in Africa to make mercury history.
“For lighting, there is no economic or technical justification to keep mercury-containing fluorescent lamps in the market. Mercury-free, drop-in LED lamps are widely available, cost-competitive and easily retrofitted into existing fixtures. We all know that mercury from fluorescent lighting endangers human health and the environment, and the African nations have looked at our markets and the rapid evolution of LED technology and decided that now is the right time to shift towards greener products that do not bring mercury into our homes, environment and businesses.
“For dental amalgam, the measures are seeking to phase down the use of dental amalgam towards a total phase out in 2029. Our research in the market found that mercury-free alternatives have become much less expensive in recent years, and they represent a cost-effective alternative now for patients compared to mercury-containing dental amalgam. The proposal recommends a gradual transition such that measures are introduced over the years and that phase-down can be complemented by an awareness raising and capacity-building effort so that an even higher percentage of dentists know how to use mercury-free alternatives, and they practice Minimal Invasive Dentistry.
“The African region recognises that these proposed amendments will have a global impact – bringing these same benefits to people, the environnent, households and businesses around the world. We believe that, in order for our amendment to be supported by the Parties, it will be important to convene a series of inter-regional consultations so the African region can present our proposal and have a dialogue with governments in the other regions about these proposals. Thus, we would like to tell our esteemed colleagues from other regions and countries that we will be reaching out to you in the lead-up to COP 4.2 and we hope that you will be welcoming and interested in discussing our proposal and its impact in your region.”