Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Air pollution & health in the Paro migrant camp

Last week Rajvir, a five year old boy at the Paro migrant camp, fell sick with a chest infection. After an overnight trip to the government hospital in Hoshiarpur and a course of antibiotics, he’s now much better and well on the way to recovery. However, it highlighted to all of us one particular health risk that the migrants in the camp, together with many other families in India, face daily: indoor air pollution from burning wood and plastic.

Worldwide, over 4 million people die each year from illnesses attributable to household air pollution. India has one of the highest death rates, standing at 400 per million population. Burning wood, which is common across much of India for cooking, releases carbon monoxide and particles from incomplete combustion, which have harmful health effects. At the Paro migrant camp, they also burn soft plastic as tinder, releasing additional harmful chemicals. Although there are outside stoves, most of the cooking in the camp is done inside the tents, where there is little or no ventilation, increasing exposure to toxic chemicals.

As would be expected, most diseases from household air pollution are respiratory illnesses, such as acute pneumonia in children, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. However, burning wood in the home doesn’t only affect the lungs. People exposed to indoor air pollution are also at greater risk of heart problems and stroke later in life.

So what can we do at Educare to minimise the health risk to the migrants of burning fuel? One of the top priorities is education. To this end, we are working to incorporate educational activities about indoor air pollution into the after school programme. A longer term goal is to find an alternative energy source for cooking, and to work with the community to find ways of increasing ventilation within the tents.

There are also health measures that can be taken. Childhood vaccines can protect against pneumonia; better nutrition boosts the immune system to fight off infectious disease; and screening for cancer and tuberculosis catches disease at an early, treatable stage before the condition becomes too serious. Hence through a collaborative approach between health, SWASH and alternative energy, we can reduce the risk of illness from household air pollution in the Paro migrant camp.

Burning wood as fuel is a major cause of household air pollution. Although the migrants at the Paro camp have outdoor stoves, they often cook inside with poor ventilation, which can have serious health consequences.

Siobhan Botwright - UK
Health Coordinator, Paro (Punjab)

No comments:

Post a Comment