Brazilian Corporate Volunteer Council signs an innovative partnership with UNV. From left to right: Bruno Lopes, representative of CIEDS; Maria Dolores Galán, UNV Officer in Brazil; Leonardo Mandu, representative of Atento Brasil; Lilian Paparella, representative of Itaipu Binacional; and Claudio Viveiros, representative of Wilson Sons. Credit: UNV - Photo: 2020

Poor Indoor Air Affecting the Health of Babies in Africa and Other Regions

By J W Jackie

RENO, Nevada, USA (IDN) – The recent State of Global Air 2020 report has revealed that pollution leads to half a million deaths among babies on a global scale every year, with poor indoor air quality contributing to two-thirds of these deaths. Particulate matter is a huge problem in Sub-Saharan Africa, where 236,00 deaths take place annually.

This zone is followed by South Asia (186,000 deaths); South-East Asia, East Asia, and Oceania (23,000); North Africa and the Middle East (20,000); Latin America and the Caribbean (7,700); and Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia (2,700).

What are the main causes of poor indoor air quality in Africa, and how can everyday citizens make significant improvements at home?

The causes of indoor air pollution include high levels of outdoor pollution, which makes its way into homes and buildings. A UNICEF report states that deaths from outdoor air pollution in Africa have increased by 57% in less than 30 years.

A study by NASA scientists, meanwhile, shows that industrial pollution and emissions from motor vehicles are causing higher mortality rates in Nigeria and South Africa. Additional causes include cooking with solid fuels (something that 80% of residents of Sub-Saharan Africa do), poor ventilation in homes, and the use of pressed wood furniture, and soft furnishings containing flame retardants (which release toxins such as formaldehyde).

Home dwellers can do plenty to reduce levels of pollution at home. Steps to take include making the switch to biogas cooking, which reduces wood smoke and toxin production by half. The use of smoke hoods over open cooking fires can also significantly reduce indoor air pollution levels. Air filters (especially HEPA filters, which can trap particles measuring as little as 0.3 microns in size) can also help, as can keeping air conditions well maintained.

Air conditioners contain vital components like capacitors, contactors and condenser coils – all of which need to be in good working order for systems to cool indoor spaces well. However, an often ignored component of air conditioning systems is the air filter, which removes airborne particles from the air that circulates within the system. Homes that do have cooling and heating systems should ensure that their unit is maintained regularly to spot flaws that can circulate contaminated air in the home.

Governmental Changes Required

Because indoor air pollution is intricately linked to outdoor pollution, making efforts to reduce the latter is vital. UNICEF has urged governments and local authorities in Africa to invest in renewable energy to reduce the reliance on fossil fuels.

They should also provide more access to public transportation, increase green areas in busy city areas, and provide better waste management to avoid burning of toxic chemicals. Urban planning is another pillar of good air quality; children’s schools, for instance, should be located far from any sources of smog and other types of pollution. Finally, the improvement of children’s overall health should incorporate pneumonia prevention and the encouragement of breastfeeding.

Indoor air pollution is a problem in Africa, as it is in many other parts of the world. Indoor fires and poor ventilation are part of the problem, as is the generally high levels of outdoor pollution in busy urban zones. Both homeowners and governments need to work hand in hand if deaths are to be reduced and home dwellers are to enjoy a greater sense of health and wellbeing. [IDN-InDepthNews – 02 December 2020]

Image credit: Civil Engineers Den.

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