Urban pollution cited for increase in deaths

Friday May 31 2019

A car emits fumes from its exhaust as it waits in traffic.

A car emits fumes from its exhaust as it waits in traffic. PHOTO | DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS | AFP 

HALIMA ABDALLAH
By HALIMA ABDALLAH
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Is there a relationship between emergency hospital admissions and deaths arising from lung- and heart-related complications caused by degradation of air quality in urban areas?

A new study thinks so and reveals that children and adults aged 35 and above are the most affected.

These complications must be long-term in order to qualify for this category, for instance reduced lung function, chronic bronchitis, asthma and mortality from lung cancer and heart diseases.

Short-term impacts of air degradation such as sneezing, eye and nose irritation, shortness of breath and runny nostrils are classified as the damage that happens within 24 hours of exposure to pollutant concentrations.

According to the researchers from the Makerere University Lung Institute, the University of Rwanda and the University of Addis Ababa, gases like nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, ozone and tiny particles, known as particulate matter, can reach deep into the body and can potentially cause permanent damage.

“We have established that the change of air quality by 50 per cent in a day, results in more people being admitted with lung and heart diseases,” said Dr Bruce Kirenga, director Makerere University Lung Institute.

The researchers looked at long- and short-term effects of air pollution in urban areas as compared with rural regions and the longterm impacts in children.

The lung experts undertook the study Status of air quality and impacts of air pollution on children’s lungs to understand the extent of air pollution because air is the leading threat to lung health.

The study took one year and its results — released end of April — will inform medics working at the newly opened Lung Clinic at National Referral Hospital Mulago.

The studies were conducted in the capital cities of Kampala, Kigali and Addis Ababa as well as in the rural areas.

Air quality monitors were set up in schools and while others have been placed in specific places within the commercial areas of the cities and some have been fixed on commercial motorcycles. These were monitored for a year.

All three cities are polluted above recommended levels by the WHO through emissions from construction equipment, power plants, burning forests and heating of oil or coal. Indoor emissions arise from use of kerosene, wood fuel and tobacco smoking.

According to the 2017 State of Global Air Report, long-term exposure to air pollution contributed to the deaths of 6.1 million people in 2016.

Although not comprehensively gathered for the whole country, data from Kampala City Council Authority hospitals only, shows lung related deaths surpassing HIV at 31,000 and 26,000 deaths respectively, said Dr Okello Ayen, who is in charge of public health at the City Council.