Indoor Pollution: A Major Health Concern Causing Lung Cancer in Uganda


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Indoor pollution is commonly perceived or referred to as household pollution because most of the pollutants are from emissions from appliances or equipment used in our own houses.

Household pollution, as a silent hazard, presents unnoticeable respiratory disease symptoms, especially cancer of the lungs. These symptoms may manifest over time, but they can still be easily ignored.

Research shows that over 3 billion people who rely on solid fuels such as wood, charcoal, or animal dung burned in inefficient stoves for heating and cooking are frequently exposed to toxic air pollution and are prone to lung cancer in the long run.

The primary sources of these pollutants include volatile organic compounds (VOCs) released from building materials like paint, furniture, and cleaning products, as well as particulate matter generated through cooking or burning candles. These substances accumulate indoors due to poor ventilation, brewing a toxic cocktail that poses a multitude of serious health risks.

Some sources, such as building materials, furnishings, and products like air fresheners, can release pollutants more or less continuously. Other sources, related to activities like smoking, cleaning, redecorating, or doing hobbies, release pollutants intermittently.

Sarah Atim, a successful architect who prided herself on her immaculate home design skills, was unaware that her carefully crafted living space harbored a silent danger.

As the years passed, Atim started experiencing persistent coughing spells and shortness of breath, prompting a medical test as ordered by her doctor. Shockingly, these tests revealed she had stage-three lung cancer.

In all this disbelief, Atim recounted how she had always kept her house spotless, never smoked, and lived far from industrial areas. It was not until after some reading and consultations that she discovered the role indoor pollutants played in her diagnosis.

Atim’s case is not unique; studies have shown that exposure to indoor pollutants can increase the risk of developing lung cancer by up to 80% for non-smokers.

On August 17th, 2023, a cross-sectional study was conducted in Bwaise slum, an informal settlement in Kawempe Division, Kampala, Uganda, by the National Library of Medicine on indoor air pollutants and respiratory symptoms among the informal urban settlements in Uganda.

According to this research, most households rely on biomass fuels, which, due to inefficient burning, emit higher levels of pollutants, including particulate matter and carbon monoxide.

It attributes this to the fact that outside cooking is protective, unlike indoor cooking with poor ventilation in the slum, which facilitates pollutant accumulation from the cooking fuels, consequently impairing the respiratory system.

During the Air Quality Awareness Week 2019 Symposium held at Makerere University Lung Institute on April 30, 2019, KCCA officials emphasized that attaining clean air in Kampala can be realized through individual and collective effort; therefore, they called upon all residents and visitors of Kampala to take simple action points such as avoiding idling car engines in the garage as this pollutes the air in the house, using improved cook stoves, stopping burning rubbish, planting and maintaining trees, and more.

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