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Use of soaps containing mercury in Africa - how to fight it

GEUS - Internationale udviklingsprojekter. Use of soaps containing mercury in Africa - how to fight it

Use of soaps containing mercury in Africa - how to fight it

Uganda on globe Uganda *

Three examples of soap products containing mercury.

Nordic Council of Ministers has funded a project against the use of soaps containing mercury in Africa. GEUS and Mellemfolkeligt Samvirke in Uganda also contributed to the project.

In sub-Saharan African countries many women are dissatisfied with the dark colour of their skin. In order to get a lighter coloured skin, they use soaps with high contents of mercury. The technique is quite simple. In the evening the women apply the soap on their skin. They leave it there overnight and next morning they rinse the remaining foam off their bodies. During night the mercury penetrates their skin and cause a reduction of the dark pigment. Thereby they attain a lighter colour. The effect does not last, but has to be repeated with intervals.

Mercury cause serious health and environmental problems. It affects the skin and at a later stages the nervous system. Mercury poisoning pose a special risk to pregnant women. Mercury may be concentrated in the foetus with a factor of 10 relative to the mother. If a pregnant woman thus has minor mercury poisoning which may be barely noticeable, she may still give birth to a baby with serious brain damage.

Action to be taken
The information campaign consisted of two parts.

A theatre group: International Anti-corruption Theatre Movement, based in Kampala will tour Uganda during June to August and again November to December. With an information campaign against the use of soaps with mercury. The group has long experience in such information campaigns. They have toured with plays on issues as corruption and HIV/AIDS. Radio broadcasts will also be made.

An awareness campaign among 1500 high school children will be carried out be the NGO group. Conflict Resolution by Youth (CRY) - Uganda. The method that is going to be used is through talks, debates, video shows, role plays and personal testimonies change the attitude of young people, so they accept the colour they have instead of aiming for a fairer complexion.


The project was terminated February 2008 and a comprehensive report was published by Nordic Council of Ministers on their web site: http://www.norden.org/pub/sk/showpub.asp?pubnr=2008:538.

or downloaded as a .pdf version here: Use of soaps containing mercury in Africa - how to fight it

Fact sheet:
Mercury in soap in sub-Saharan Africa

TV-feature on the campain:
Brugen af kviksølvsæber i Afrika

Contacts in Uganda
International Anti-corruption Theatre movement
Leader: Musisi Munagomba Fred
MS Uganda
Doreen Routa dr.msuga@ms.or.ug

Future projects:

The Danish Embassy in Dar es Salaam is presently negotiating with a NGO on a similar theatre project in Tanzania. Mellemfolkeligt Samvirke in Zambia is preparing a project description on a similar project. Attempts are in progress for a project in Uganda where the IATM theatre group shall prepare radio broadcasts in three different languages for informing the Ugandan population against the health hazards in using mercury soaps. The radiobroadcasts are scheduled to be transmitted once a week over 6 month. They should be interactive so people can phone to the radio station with questions and comments.

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Use of soaps containing mercury in Africa - how to fight it