This week, MHC takes a critical look at the consumption of baked clay, popularly known as "ayilo" by thousands of pregnant women in Ghana. Some women say it helps them cope with diarrhoea, stomach discomfort, nausea and other pregnancy related conditions. Many health practitioners however insist that the baked clay is one reason why so many women in Ghana are anaemic. "Ayilo" has also been associated with lead poisoning, dental injury and other undesirable effects among pregnant women and some post natal complications. MHC speaks to women who say they are addicted to "ayilo" and need help and visit Anfoaga in the Volta Region, where the freshly mined clay soil is moulded into lumps, oven baked and distributed to markets across Ghana.
In Ghana, eating of baked clay involves ingestion of a creamy-white loamy clay soil. Some of this clay product is mined from a clay mining town called Anfoega the capital town of North Danyi District located in the middle belts of Volta Region of Ghana close to the borders of Togo. The freshly mined wet semi-solid clay soil is moulded into lumps ranging from about 20g to over 200g a piece, oven baked, and sold in markets for ceramic, traditional and cultural applications, and to a large extent, for ingestion mostly by pregnant women.
The clay soil commonly consumed by pregnant women contains mineral nutrients that supports plant growth notably magnesium, zinc, copper, manganese, silicon, and iron, as well as some toxic mineral elements such as lead and aluminum.
Several motivating factors for eating baked clay have been reported. It is used as a remedy for diarrhoea and stomach discomfort supposedly to absorb bacterial toxins associated with intestinal distress, as well as to alleviate nausea and the toxemia of pregnancy. On the other hand, it has been associated with lead poisoning, dental injury and other undesirable effects including low bone mineralization and anaemia among pregnant women.