Inefficient Developing World Stoves Contribute to 2 Million Deaths a Year

Monday, October 17, 2011

An international effort to replace smoky, inefficient household stoves that people commonly use in lower and middle income countries with clean, affordable, fuel efficient stoves could save nearly 2 million lives each year, according to experts from the National Institutes of Health.

In a commentary in Science, the NIH scientists noted that indoor air pollution from such inefficient stoves affects about 3 billion people — nearly half the world’s population. In addition to respiratory disease caused by smoke, the fuel needed by inefficient stoves leads to deforestation, and environmental degradation.

“Many people in developed countries don’t realize that smoke from indoor cooking fires is a terrible scourge upon the health of a large number of people,” said Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D, director of the National Institutes of Health and an author of the study. “International efforts to combat this scourge are now beginning. The NIH’s role is to support the research that will determine the most efficient, cost effective means to do so while safe guarding human health.”

The study authors stated that nearly half the world’s population uses biomass (wood, crop residues, charcoal or dung) or coal as fuel for cooking and heating. “The primitive fires typically fill homes with dense smoke, blackening walls and ceilings and sickening those within.”

Other authors of the study were William J. Martin II, M.D., associate director for prevention research and health promotion at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Roger I. Glass, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Fogarty International Center, and John M. Balbus, senior advisor for public health, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Women and children are at greatest risk for the adverse health effects posed by inefficient stoves, the study authors wrote. Men tend to leave home during the day, but women and children remain. As a result, women and children have many of the same disease risks as do people who smoke tobacco. These risks include pneumonia, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Source: ScienceDaily (link opens in a new window)