Air pollution linked to child deaths in Nairobi

Polluted air has been confirmed as a cause of high child illnesses and deaths in parts of Nairobi.

Out of 1,330 recent child deaths in two areas of Nairobi, 357 of them have been linked to polluted air.

Of 1,802 illnesses in the same areas, 1,454 or 87 per cent were respiratory conditions which researchers blame on bad air.

Scientists have investigated air quality and the health of children in Korogocho and Viwandani slums in Nairobi and report high rates of pollution and related sickness and deaths.

In the study led by Dr Thaddaeus Egondi of the Nairobi based African Population and Health Research Centre (APHRC) air pollution in these areas was five times over and above limits of the World Health Organization.

APHRC has been running a health research programme in the two slums since 2003 covering 63,484 individuals from 25,474 households.

The current study whose findings were published last month (11th September) in the scientific journal Atmosphere followed about 26,000 children.

The authors indicate air pollution is a major health problem in Nairobi especially in poor residential areas currently housing about 2.5 million people.

The research reports high air pollution in the two slums which like most other areas of Nairobi, are characterized with uncollected garbage, open dumpsites and dusty unpaved roads.

“These areas are also characterized with high vehicular traffic, open air cooking and burning of waste and industrial exhaust,” says the study.

Air pollution in Korogocho, the study says was significantly much higher than recorded in Viwandani.

This is partially attributed to the nearness of Korogocho to the Dandora dumpsite which is associated with high air population.

An earlier study near Dandora dumpsite in Nairobi showed that half of the children examined had respiratory ailments and blood lead levels exceeding internationally accepted toxic levels.

Previously research, the new report says has reported high prevalence of respiratory diseases including asthma and pneumonia among children in poor residential areas of Nairobi.

Pneumonia remains the top killer disease in Kenya, taking about 21,000 lives annually, according to hospital data published in the Kenya Economic Survey.

In a recent twist a national commission on health has declared asthma and respiratory disease as the top priority non-communicable diseases in Kenya.

The current study shows even within the study areas some had higher air pollution than others with the poorest families likely to live in the most affected areas.

Children living in the most highly polluted areas were 21 per cent more likely to experience more illnesses compared to those in households within less polluted areas.

Such children, the study says were likely to have symptoms associated with air pollution including rapid cough, fever, convulsion and diarrhea.

“Also children from high exposure areas were 12 per cent more likely to die from respiratory-related infections compared to those from low exposure areas,” says the study.

Most of these deaths the report indicates to have happened within the first year of the child’s life.

Children, the study say are more vulnerable to air pollution than adults because of their un-developed immune and respiratory systems.

The authors also from Strathmore University, Kenya, Alberta Health Services, Canada, and Umea University, Sweden say their findings confirm high child disease and deaths caused by air pollution in poor residential areas of Nairobi.

They suggest effective actions be taken urgently to reduce air pollution levels in Nairobi and safeguarded the health of city residents.


Some facts

Air pollution in two Nairobi slums five times over WHO limits

87% of respiratory illness in children blamed on air pollution

Of 1,330 deaths 357 linked to polluted air

2.5 million people live in poor neighbourhoods in Nairobi

Air pollution blamed on:

  1. Poor waste disposal
  2. Open air cooking and burning of waste
  3. Unpaved roads and vehicular traffic
  4. Industrial exhaust
  5. Crowding



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