Illegal gold mining in central Nigeria’s Niger state has resulted in the deaths of 28 children from lead poisoning.

Nigeria Junior Health Minister Fidelis Nwankwo was quoted saying there are 65 cases reported so far, with 28 deaths.

Nwankwo told AFP: "All the 28 cases were children below the age of five."

The outbreak affected Shikira, Magiro Ward and Kawo communities in Rafi Local Government.

"All the 28 cases were children below the age of five."

Sources said that 17 to 22 times higher levels of lead was found in the poisoned victims.

It is believed that the poisoning happened from new illegal mining sites containing huge leaded ores that were brought home to crush and process.

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It is also said to have affected animals and livestock such as cows, goats, and chickens.

Unsafe mining techniques were used to process ore for gold extraction, which lead spread in several areas.

Fearing a ban of their mining activities by authorities, local communities initially hesitated to reveal the fatalities and illnesses that were arising from lead poisoning.

Nwankwo said that the government already started taking action and is mobilising health facilities in the regions.

He further ordered for a ban on illegal mining in the state.

A type of metal poisoning, lead poisoning is also considered as a medical condition in humans and other vertebrates, which occurs due to high levels of the metal in the body.

Lead is also toxic to children and causes potentially permanent learning and behaviour disorders.