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Why air pollution is a threat to universal health coverage target

Air pollution could reverse efforts aimed at enhancing universal health coverage in the country.

The World Health Organisation says around 3 billion people globally cook using polluting open fires or simple stoves fuelled by kerosene, biomass (wood, animal dung and crop waste) and coal.

The global body says that close to 4 million people die prematurely every year from illness attributable to household air pollution.

Noncommunicable diseases caused by air pollution include stroke, ischaemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer.

WHO says close to half of deaths due to pneumonia among children under five are caused by particulate matter (soot) inhaled from household air pollution.

In Kenya, 14,300 people die annually from health conditions, which can be traced back to indoor pollution. The air pollution burden now threatens the achievement of universal health coverage.

Kenya seeks to have UHC by 2022. It captures the population covered, the services provided and the cost of services covered. Last year, WHO warned that children around the globe were being exposed to hazardous effects of air pollution.

WHO said 92 per cent of the global population, including billions of children, live in areas with ambient air pollution levels that exceed WHO limits. It said that over 3 billion people were being exposed to household air pollution.

WHO said air pollution caused close to 600,000 deaths in children under five annually, and increases the risk for respiratory infections, asthma, adverse neonatal conditions and congenital anomalies.

The Society for International Development says the type of fuel used for cooking has implications for development. SID says lack of access to clean sources of energy is a major impediment to development through health-related complications, such as increased respiratory infections and air pollution.

Kenya banned logging on February 24, following wanton destruction of forests. The ban was meant to arrest increased incidences of illegal logging and unsustainable charcoal production.

The Kenya Forest Service acting chief conservator Monica Kalenda says since the ban was instituted, 936 cases have been prosecuted, of which, 544 have been finalised.

In addition, 4,696 bags of charcoal have been forfeited to state, and Sh10.9 million issued as fines.

KFS personnel protect 2.59 million hectares of gazetted forests and another 1.7 million hectares under jurisdiction of county governments.

The ban on logging has now distorted market prices of forest materials, leading to high cost of timber and charcoal, a move that has led to unlawful harvesting.

It has also complicated how rural folks cook their food.