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Indoor Air Pollution: The Air I Breathe

By Alice Tembe, Citizen News Service - CNS

Impact of Indoor Air Quality

The impact of indoor air quality, on airborne infections is often ignored or unknown even though it relates to the health of our lungs-one of the most vital organs in our bodies. Indoor air pollution arising out of inhaling solid cooking fuel smoke directly caused 3.5 million premature deaths in 2010 and 1.3 million children under 5 years of age died from pneumonia in 2011 according to UNCEF Reports of 2012.

The 2011 WHO report further confirms that three types of lung diseases have been shown to have a strong association with solid fuel smoke: acute lower respiratory infections (ALRIs) in children, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) in women, and lung cancer in women exposed to coal smoke.

Dr. Chen-Yuan Chiang, Director, Department of Lung Health & Non-Communicable Diseases, International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union) informs that, "Globally, about 50% of all households and 90% of rural households use solid fuels (coal and biomass) as the main domestic source of energy as a result of which 50% of the world population is exposed to the harmful effects of these combustion products."

One elderly respondent in Swaziland, who refrained from being named, questioned the association of lung health diseases and resulting accelerated death due to use of solid fuel, rudimentary cook stoves and open fires. She noted that historically most African ancestors used open fires from time immemorial as a source of warmth, light and cooking yet they lived longer lives, how is it that younger generations get sick from it?.

According to the views of an expert Editor of the Citizen News Service - CNS, Ms Shobha Shukla, our ancestors rather lived healthier than longer lives with more outdoor activities and eating healthy natural food. She further noted that morbidity has increased in our generation than in our ancestors' time but so has life longevity. Ms Shukla, explained that increase in population resulted in people living in crammed spaces with poor ventilation resulting in the dire effects of indoor air pollution.

In Swaziland, a small country with a population of just about one million, industrialisation has affected most of the population according to the SHIMS Report of 2011. Rural to urban migration in search for employment and better life is rampant within and even beyond the borders, which has resulted in the mushrooming of unofficial settlements with small one-roomed poorly ventilated homes intimately known as 'titimela'. Most of these rooms do not have electricity hence use rudimentary cook stoves and open fires that emit carbon monoxide and other fine particle pollutants damaging the respiratory system.

On the other hand, the Swaziland Electricity Company (SEC) has over 122 000 customers with pre-paid electricity and increasing with at least 1200 new connections every month according to the SEC Corporate Communications Manager, Mr Sifiso Dlamini. Mr Dlamini however expressed concern on the increase of domestic electricity users compared to industrial users as this will result in high costs on purchase per unit. He noted that having more industrial customers will make electricity more affordable for regular domestic customers. Suffice to say, the high uptake of electricity will reduce use of rudimentary cook stoves and open fires that cause indoor pollution. Further, communities need to increase closed spaces ventilation to reduce impact of indoor pollution.

According to Dr Chen strategies to reduce indoor air pollution should include 'making available alternate, cleaner types of fuel that produce less harmful smoke; improving access to better stoves used for cooking and heating; improving the quality of the ventilation used for the stoves; and providing education for behaviour change.'

Education and awareness campaigns need to be consistent and wide spread to dispel myths and impart skills for individuals to minimize effects of indoor and outdoor air pollution- after all this is the air we all breathe. (CNS)

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