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Preventing Pneumonia With Clean Cookstoves

Lillian Njuu says she’s willing to pay for a clean cookstove because of the heal

Lillian Njuu, pictured here, says she’s willing to pay for a clean cookstove because of the health benefits for her family

Do you know the leading cause of death in children worldwide? It kills an estimated 1.4 million children under 5 each year—more than malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS combined. Many will be surprised to learn that the answer is pneumonia, an acute lung infection that can be treated with antibiotics and prevented with immunization, adequate nutrition and simple environmental interventions.

Although preventable and easily treatable, only 30% of children afflicted with pneumonia receive the antibiotics they need. For this reason, health advocates are working to prevent the onset of pneumonia by reducing indoor air pollution. That’s because nearly 50% of child pneumonia deaths are caused by inhaling smoke from indoor cook stoves. Figures on the percent of child deaths that are infants are not readily accessible. However a study in Ecuador showed that infants had double the mortality rates if their families used biomass fuels. and other studies cited by the TRACTION project have shown a connection between indoor air pollution and poor pregnancy outcomes and low birth weight.

The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves is leading this effort. Worldwide, approximately 3 billion people cook and heat their homes using open fires or leaky stoves that burn solid fuels, which release health-damaging gases and particles during combustion. The Alliance focuses on redesigning stoves, identifying cleaner fuels, improving ventilation in homes, and changing simple behaviors, such as keeping children away from smoky areas.

Clean, more efficient cookstoves will not only help prevent pneumonia and other respiratory ailments, but will also decrease the time mothers and children must spend collecting biomass (wood, animal dung and crop waste) as fuel. Additionally, they will help protect fragile natural resources and avoid the emission of greenhouse gases. Moreover, clean cookstoves can provide economic opportunity when manufactured at the local level. The impact of this simple intervention is far-reaching.

However, until uptake of cleaner-burning stoves increases, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) has ramped up its immunization campaign. In 2010, GAVI helped negotiate a 90 percent price reduction from vaccine manufacturers. This deal has brought the cost down to $3.50 a dose, assisting low-income countries to afford and distribute the vaccine.