SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
  15 March 2012
Volume 13 Issue 3

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Toxicological and Environmental Health Issues in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Neglected Priority. First International Conference of the West African Society of Toxicology in Collaboration with SETAC Africa

Ikechukwu Onwurah, Central/Western Regional Manager for SETAC-Africa

It has been just over nine months since SETAC Africa held its biannual conference at the University of Buea in Cameroon, in collaboration with the Cameroon Society for Toxicological Sciences (SETAC Africa Meeting a Huge Success, Globe 12(8)). One of the highlights of the Buea conference was the creation of the West Africa Society of Toxicology (WASOT), conceived to be an umbrella organisation to define and coordinate toxicology research and activities in the (article) West Africa sub-region.

The inaugural conference of WASOT, held in collaboration with SETAC Africa, was hosted by the University of Benin in Benin, Nigeria, 7-10 February 2012. The main theme, Toxicological and Environmental Health Issues in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Neglected Priority, had many other interesting sub-themes, all aimed at setting the pace for incorporating toxicological research data into health policy in the West African sub-region. Thanks to SETAC for promoting the conference through its website.

Opening Ceremony and Attendance

Dignitaries at the Opening Ceremony

About 120 participants from academia, government, business and regulatory agencies, who were mostly from Nigeria but included representatives from other African countries and the UK, attended the conference. The conference started with Professor Orish Ebere Orisakwe, the Interim President of WASOT, welcoming the participants. The Chairman at the opening ceremony was Sir Peter Idabor, Director-General/CEO, National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency. The opening address was given by the Special Guest of Honour, Professor Osayuki G. Oshodin (JP), Vice-Chancellor, University of Benin who was ably represented by Professor J. Okhuoya (the DVC Administration, University of Benin). He thanked the organizers for choosing the University of Benin as the host for the conference. Many important dignitaries from the government that graced the opening ceremony included Mrs. Abiola Olanipekun, Assistant Director, Department of Pollution Control and Environmental Health, Federal Ministry of Environment who represented the Minister of Environment; the Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources, Delta State, represented by Mrs. O.S. Egedi; the Honourable Commissioner, Ministry of Environment and Public Utilities, Edo State, represented by the Permanent Secretary Alhaji Alasa Ikhelowa; the Commissioner of Police of Edo State also represented by ACP, Dr. Wilson Akhiwu. Also in attendance were the President of SETAC Cameroon, Dr. Estella Tamunsana and Central/Western Regional Manager for SETAC-Africa Professor Ikechukwu N. E. Onwurah.

Keynote Lecture

(Left) Keynote speaker, E O Faronbi Ph.D., FRSC Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Toxicology and (right) Prof Oladele Osibanja of University of Ibadan, Nigeria

The keynote lecture was delivered by a biochemical toxicologist, Professor Olatunde Farombi, University of Ibadan, Nigeria. He spoke on "Human exposure to environmental chemicals in Sub-Saharan Africa – toxicological, potential health consequences and chemopreventive intervention." In his presentation he said that the Sub-Saharan Africa has been inflicted with a myriad of diseases ranging from cardiovascular to various forms of cancer as a result of exposure to environmental chemicals such as lead, cadmium, nitrosamines, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, aflatoxins, etc.

He concluded by saying that the African continent has one of the richest biodiversity resources in the world and abounds in plants of both economic and medicinal importance, and that harnessing their chemopreventive agents would represent a more rational and pragmatic approach to solving the huge expenditure on imported drugs. This will also meet the health needs of the African continent.

Plenary Lectures

Plenary presenter, Ikechukwu N. E Onwurah Professor of Biochemistry and Environmental Toxicology

Two plenary lectures were presented during the conference. The first one was given by Dr. Philip Judson (Lhasa Limited and the Judson Foundation) on the topic "Computational/predictive toxicology." Judson said that computational predictive toxicology is now accepted (and encouraged) for some regulatory purposes and that with the aid of computer prediction, researchers can now decide about research priorities. He emphasized that getting good statistical performance does not necessarily mean that predictions are reliable. For best performance, there is a need for one to access training data. He concluded that they are less expensive when compared with animal models. Professor Ikechukwu N.E Onwurah, Pollution Control and Biotechnology Unit, Department of Biochemistry, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Enugu State, Nigeria, was the second plenary speaker and presented "Ecotoxicology and risk assessment: application of ecological risk assessment (ERA) tools." In his lecture, Onwurah highlighted the major features of ERA tools including a physiologically-based toxicokinetic model, a biologically-based dose-response model and a toxicity pathway model. These tools were used in modeling the effects of crude oil spill on a palm oil plantation using valued ecosystem components (VECs) as the keystone that linked the bottom-up toxicity information with the top-down information on the palm oil plantation ecosystem dynamics and soil ecosystem community interactions. He concluded by encouraging ecotoxicologists to embrace the 21st century paradigm of ecological risk assessment, which lies within the domain of Adverse Outcome Pathway (AOP) model for predictive ecotoxicology studies.

Platform and Posters Presentations

Poster presentation and social

Over 70 academic papers were presented at the conference in both platform and poster format for two consecutive days. Platform presentations consisted of short presentations on current research works on various aspects of toxicology that included the following:

  • Health hazards of artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM): untold stories and lessons from Zamfara State, Nigeria
  • Review of Artemia salina L. hatching methods and lessons for the Nigerian ecotoxicologist
  • A chemical bioactivity information centre for AFRICA
  • Hepatic bioaccumulation and histopathological responses of the flat backed toad, Bufo maculatus exposed to sublethal concentrations of cadmium
  • The haemopoietic system and increasing generator use in Nigeria: understanding and consequences
  • Screening e-waste plastics in Nigeria for brominated flame retardants using XRF – towards a methodology for assessing POPs PBDEs in e-waste

Closing Ceremony

(Left) Prof L I Ezemonye, (right) Prof O E Orisakwe

The closing ceremony was marked by the Vice Chancellor’s dinner at the banquet hall, University of Benin, and was presided over by Professor Lawrence Ezemonye, the Director National Centre for Energy and Environment, Energy Commission of Nigeria, University of Benin.

Special Tour
On 10 February participants enjoyed a trip to Igun Street, Bronze Casters, Benin Moat, Ogba Zoo, Revelation Tourist Palazzo and the Museum.

At the end of the conference, participants expressed deep satisfaction with the overall organization and the hospitality they received in Benin. A suggestion was made for the next conference's keynote speaker to come from government in order to balance the tripartite memberships of WASOT and SETAC. In the words of one of the participants “among all the conferences I have attended, this WASOT/SETAC Africa conference has proven to be an international conference indeed (kudos to the organizers).”

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