19 December 2012

Interview with Dan Polsky, Senior Fellow at the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics at the University of Pennsylvania

Disease burden from household air pollution is not improving in poor countries.

As they make the transition from low-income to middle income status, countries such as India and China have reduced the number and share of their populations whose lives are caught short from exposure to the noxious effects of cooking with wood or on open fires. But the numbers of people on the planet exposed to household air pollution continues to rise amid global population growth, and the burden is shifting more and more to least-developed countries, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Those are a couple of the major findings from a recently-released report of the health consequences from household air pollution, authored by Daniel Polsky, Ph.D., a Senior Fellow at the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics at the University of Pennsylvania.

Polsky’s report is published amid the release of the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) 2010 Study on 13 December 2012, which revealed that four million people, mainly in the developing world, die prematurely of household air pollution, caused by cooking with mostly solid fuels, such as wood or coal, and on open fires or other traditional cookstoves. This is double the previous estimate from 2000, which reflects the greater toll that household air pollution takes on men, and a better understanding of heart and lung diseases.

“Because household air pollution is a risk factor, it doesn’t get the same attention as TB or malaria, yet the burden is the same order of magnitude,” Polsky said. “We should put the same amount of attention to it as we do to other global diseases.”

The Global Burden of Disease (GBD) Study 2010, released Thursday 13 December 2012, is the largest ever systematic effort to describe the global distribution and causes of a wide range of major diseases, injuries, and health risk factors, which took five years, involving 486 authors in 50 countries. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington led the effort in collaboration with six core organisations: the University of Queensland, Harvard School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, University of Tokyo, Imperial College London, and the World Health Organization. The research examined more than 300 diseases, injuries, and risk factors.

The World LP Gas Association launched the COOKING FOR LIFE campaign in September 2012, a five-year initiative to help address this global health challenge by switching one billion people from cooking with solid fuels to clean-burning LP Gas by 2030. The initiative will raise awareness of the huge toll household air pollution is taking in developing countries, and the WLPGA will partner with governments, NGOs, and the LP Gas industry in developing countries to scale up the availability of LP Gas.

To read a full copy of the report, visit the COOKING FOR LIFE website.