Over three million suffer from respiratory diseases annually – report

Prof Alexis Butera (centre) leads other doctors during an operation on a patient at King Faisal Hospital recently. / Sam Ngendahimana

Every year, more than three million Rwandans suffer from respiratory problems of which 13 per cent is caused by air pollution, the Ministry of Health has said.

Dr Innocent Turate, the Head of HIV and other infectious diseases at Rwanda Biomedical Center, made the revelations this week during celebrations of World Environmental Day in a discussion dubbed;“how to beat air pollution and the impact of poor air quality on health and Sustainable Development Goals”.

He said the analysis was conducted in 2017 in different health facilities in the country.

“We recorded more three million cases of respiratory diseases of which pollution claimed 13 percent. We need to work together to beat air pollution and improve our collective health,” he said.

Deaths attributable to poor air quality in 2017 reached 12,000 which reflect why Rwanda is phasing out polluting charcoal, introducing e-Mobility, improving waste management and reforesting 30% of the country to ensure air quality.

“9,040 deaths out of 12,000 were due to indoor air pollution and 2,960 due to ambient air pollution,” statistics indicate.

“We have realised that one out of four people is affected by respiratory diseases every year. They are mostly caused by cooking with firewood, charcoal, petrol, fuel and ambient air pollution,” Turate said.

However, he added that the ministry was going to conduct research with particular focus on diseases and deaths caused by air pollution alone.

“We are conducting research called “Hope” in Kayonza District which will show us the intensity of air pollution and its impact on people’s health. We are selecting a sample of households to be part of the research.

We have so far selected 500 households but the target is 800. After the findings, we will get figures of diseases or deaths particularly caused by polluted air,” he noted.

Today more than 90% of people globally breathe polluted air and approximately seven million die from air pollution-related causes every year.

Women and children involved in domestic work such as cooking are disproportionately exposed to air pollution like smoke from dirty cooking stoves and fuels while the elderly with lung or heart diseases are also vulnerable.

Every year global transport emissions are linked to $1 trillion in health damages which is nearly 400,000 deaths.

Studies also show that nearly 90 % of air pollution deaths occur in low and middle income countries.

Coletha Ruhamya, the Director General of Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA) said that since air pollution affects vulnerable people, especially young children and women, there was need for using alternatives to wood and charcoal and redesign kitchens to improve ventilation.

Cost of air pollution related deaths

Meanwhile Vincent Biruta, the Minister for Environment reiterated that there was need for detailed risk assessments to quantify the potential impact and costs of air pollution-related health problems in Rwanda.

“I encourage stakeholders to join hands so as to find innovative ways to address the problem and strive to build an environment free from air pollution. I encourage our research partners to explore air quality modeling to predict future levels of pollution and their sources. We need to quantify the potential impact and costs of air pollution to health,” he said.

Air pollution costs the global economy US $5 trillion in welfare costs annually and ground-level ozone pollution is expected to reduce staple crop yields by 26 percent by 2030.

“The data tells us that we are all exposed to air pollution and that we all have a role to play. Whether you are a farmer who burns the remains of your harvest, a parent who cooks with charcoal or someone who drives a car, there is something we can do to clean the air we breathe”.

These include Car-free days, green spaces, vehicle inspections, bike lanes, subsidies for Liquefied Petroleum Gas as an alternative to charcoal.

They also include emissions standards, e-Mobility strategies and the recent establishment of the African Air Quality and Climate Laboratory in Kigali.

“Forests also play a key role in purifying the air we breathe. That’s one reason Rwanda is aiming for 30% forest coverage by 2020 -, a goal we are close to achieving,” he added.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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