Smoke (indoor air pollution) from cooking with wood, dung and crop residues leads to the death of
nearly one million children a year and is the fourth greatest risk for death and disease in the
world’s poorest countries. Tiny particles from burning fuels such as wood and charcoal get into
the lungs, leading to respiratory infections such as pneumonia and chronic bronchitis. In addition,
there is evidence to link indoor air pollution to asthma, tuberculosis, cataracts, low birth weight
and increased infant mortality. Where coal is burnt, there is an added risk of cancers.
In recent years, governments and international organisations have started to take a greater interest
in indoor air pollution and are keen to find ways to alleviate it.
Whilst individual technologies can be tested in a laboratory, stoves and other smoke-alleviating
products work very differently within a household situation and monitoring methods are needed to
identify technologies that are both effective at alleviating smoke and, importantly, are attractive to
the user, so that they are in regular use.
Approaches to monitoring
Monitoring approaches vary from very basic surveys, for example, where women report whether
they have observed reductions in kitchen smoke, to international large-scale health / pollution
studies, which examine the links between smoke and ill-health. The largest of these is nearing
completion (May 2007) and results are being analysed and published (WHO, 2007a).
Randomised controlled trial in Guatemala
The links between exposure to indoor air
pollution and various forms of ill-health are
clear. However, more information is needed on
how they relate to each other.
A major study in the rural highlands of Western
Guatemala is examining, for the first time, the
relationship between childhood pneumonia and
reducing pollution levels in the homes through
the introduction of improved stoves (Figure1).
Other issues that affect women’s lives and
wellbeing are also being measured.
The 500 households in the study receive either
the improved stove, or no stove at all.
A combination of weekly and more infrequent
home visits is used to measure exposure to
pollution and the health of both children and
women of child-bearing age
At the end of the work, the remaining
households in the study are provided with stoves.
Figure 1: Woman using improved stove,
Guatemala (photo: Nigel Bruce)
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