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Rwanda begins countrywide crackdown on banned skin lightening and bleaching products

Rwanda begins countrywide crackdown on banned skin lightening and bleaching products
  • The Rwandan government has started sending health officials across the country to enforce the ban.
  • The campaign got started on November last year after President Paul Kagame sparked discussions on social media.
  • Despite the obvious dangers skin whitening creams continue to be sold in many African countries without restriction.

Rwanda has started enforcing the countrywide ban on skin lightening and bleaching products as it moves to lead a campaign against skin bleaching and substandard cosmetics, particularly products that include hydroquinone.

The Rwandan government has started sending health officials across the country to enforce the ban. Government officials and police are now patrolling markets in the capital, Kigali, and in provinces across the central African nation, seizing skin-lightening and bleaching products from vendors.

"It is been implemented by the Ministry of Health and the Rwanda Food and Drug Authority and the Rwanda Standards Board," Simeon Kwizera, the public relations and communications officer at Rwanda Standards Board told CNN.

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Operations are being conducted by technical people," he said. "The police is there to oversee only and make sure that all operations are being conducted in a safe way."

The campaign got started on November last year after President Paul Kagame sparked discussions on social media after he tweeted his response to a post from a woman calling on the government to crackdown on skin bleaching.

Mr. Kagame said the bleaching creams are unhealthy, and called on the country's ministry of health and police to rein "this in very quickly."

Skin-lightening products contain chemicals such as mercury and hydroquinone, which can cause liver damage, reduce resistance to bacterial and fungal infections, and increase anxiety, depression and psychosis, according to the World Health Organisation.

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However, despite the obvious dangers skin whitening creams continue to be sold in many African countries without restriction.

Around 25% of women in Mali, 77% of women in Nigeria, and 59% in Togo regularly use skin-lightening products, according to a 2011 report by the World Health Organization.

Last month, Rwanda's Standards Board warned the public about the alternative names for hydroquinone, one of the prohibited ingredients in ordinary commercial cosmetics.

"All the ingredients that can help in body bleaching, skin bleaching, are banned," a government spokesperson told CNN.

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According to local media, New Times, Rwandan police have since seized more than 5,000 banned bleaching products -- including lotions, oils, soaps and sprays -- from beauty shops across the country last month alone.

"We are now putting much effort, like educating people, going around and seizing those illegal products," Francois Uwinkindi, director of the cancer unit at the Ministry of Health, later told Reuters news agency.

Rwanda now joins Ghana and Ivory Coast which banned skin lightening creams in 2017 and 2015 respectively.

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