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Rwanda is the latest African country to ban bleaching products

Rwanda has followed Ivory Coast, Ghana, Kenya and South Africa in cracking down on skin bleaching products that contain chemicals like hydroquinone and mercury, which have been linked to skin cancer and kidney and liver damage.

According to the World Health Organisation, skin bleaching is a multibillion-dollar global industry and at least four out of every 10 women in Africa bleach their skin. The market is projected to reach US$31.2 billion by 2024, up from US$17.9 billion in 2017, especially in Asia, the Middle East and Africa, according to Global Industry Analysts.

Medical experts have said that in Africa the widening phenomenon is laden with health risks because the continent’s regulations are often lax or scorned. However, governments are steadily fixing this by banning skin bleaching products en masse, as well as products that contain the harmful chemicals that lead to long-term organ and skin damage.

The latest African nation to join the fight against such harmful products is Rwanda. The Rwandan government has banned the importation of skin lightening and bleaching products and is sending officials across the country to enforce its ban.

“All the ingredients active in body bleaching, skin bleaching, are banned,” a government spokesperson told CNN.

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

Reports say that government officials and police are now patrolling markets in the capital, Kigali, and in provinces across this central African nation, seizing skin-lightening and bleaching products from vendors.

“These measures are being implemented by the Ministry of Health, the Rwanda Food and Drug Authority and the Rwanda Standards Board,” Simeon Kwizera, public relations and communications officer for the board, told CNN.

“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.”

According to The New Times newspaper, Rwandan police said they have so far seized more than 5 000 banned bleaching products – including lotions, oils, soaps and sprays – from beauty shops across the country.

Although some critics say that banning products only encourages their clandestine use, it will arguably be harder for consumers to find such products and potentially make them more expensive, which will hopefully be a further deterrent for many.

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