Encourage use of clean cooking fuel to save lives

Thursday, December 26th, 2019 08:00 | By
Gas. Photo/Courtesy

Wanjiku Manyara

Preventing loss of lives to respiratory diseases is a goal within Kenya’s grasp. 

Yet it will require a shift in attention that is currently eluding us — at a huge cost in unnecessary deaths. 

A new government report, the Kenya Household Cooking Sector Study, which was launched at the Clean Cooking Forum this November, indicates that more than 50 Kenyans die every day from the effects of cooking with traditional fuels.

It adds to a growing body of research showing that indoor air pollution caused by traditional cooking fuels is driving the respiratory morbidity and mortality of an estimated 21,600 Kenyans a year, with 40 per cent being young children and infants through lung damage.

Yet, the government of Kenya spends millions each year tackling preventable diseases while doing literally nothing to address the killing going on in Kenyan kitchens—with around 90 per cent of rural households still relying on firewood for cooking and heating, while more than 80 per cent of urban households use charcoal. 

Of the Sh18.3 billion allocated to the Ministry of Health towards the Big Four Agenda of Universal Healthcare Coverage, Sh2.17 billion is for the preventive Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health programme to reduce morbidity and mortality due to preventable causes.

Yet not a single shilling was spent in stopping home cooking with smoking fuels, despite it being the single biggest cause of the death pile-up.

Indoor air pollution has also been associated with chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, acute lower respiratory infections, and low birth weights. 

A 2014 study in Ghana on pregnant women found that the use of clean fuel before the third trimester of pregnancy led to a significant increase in average birth weight, and a reduction in severe pneumonia in children within the first year of life. 

As it is, the government is trying to move the nation to cleaner fuels, and notably to liquified petroleum gas (LPG) for these reasons.

 But Kenya’s LPG consumption still stands at just two kilos per capita, where consumption in Ghana, South Africa, and Senegal is at five, six and 10kg per person. And the country’s health system is nowhere in addressing the cooking fuel problem.

A key factor in this remains the lack of understanding by many mothers that indoor cooking with solid fuels is a killer, putting their families and children at a huge risk. Many have no idea of the dangers posed by the fuel they use to cook.

While primary healthcare budgets can be spent on health appointments and treatment, simply informing the public at every health facility and in every contact that indoor fires kill could go a long way in saving our newborns and young children from respiratory problems. — The writer is General Manager, Petroleum Institute of East Africa

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