Kitchen smoke hazardous for women, children

KATHMANDU, May 8: Rina Gwachha, 29, a resident of Golmadi in Bhaktapur district, has not had a sound sleep ever since she gave birth to her second daughter 10 months ago.

Rina goes to bed late in the night only after putting her baby to sleep and has to get up early as her baby girl wakes up in the wee hours. “I get to sleep hardly for 3-4 hours,” she says.

Normally, all mothers with newborn babies have similar problems. They hardly get to sleep and take rest. But, Rina´s case is a little bit different. Her baby is not healthy. “As she is suffering from various illnesses, I need to give a lot more attention to my baby,” she says.

Rina takes her baby to hospital every alternate day. “I quit my job as I could not manage time to look after my baby,” she says. Her baby has been suffering from respiratory problems and cough.

“I cannot attend parties, rituals and marriage ceremonies because of my sick child,” says she. Rina´s two other children, a 10-year-old son and a seven-year-old daughter, also have similar health problems.

“Both my previous children are also suffering from similar health problems,” she says. They are now taking Asthalin, a medicine used by patients with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Rina has been cooking food on mud oven for many years now. She usually cooks burning firewood and dung cakes that give off a lot of smoke. And what makes the situation worse for her is the fact that there is no chimney or any other sort of outlet for the smoke to escape from her kitchen.

Health experts say smoke emitted from traditional ovens has adverse effects on people´s health, especially if there are no outlets.

Rina, however, is totally oblivious to the negative effects of smoke trapped inside her kitchen on her and her children´s health. When asked, she just said, “Is it so? I have no idea.”

In Nepal, thousands of people, most of them women and children, are believed to be at the risk of various health problems caused by household pollution.

And the problem exists not just in the far-flung villages, but also in the Kathmandu Valley. Hundreds of families in the Valley are using kerosene and solid fuels like crop waste and dung cakes to cook food, which leads to pollution inside their houses.

Even in places where cooking gas is available, people are using solid fuels and kerosene, a report published two months ago has shown.

The report says the use of solid fuels like crop waste and dung cakes is likely to cause pneumonia among children who are below five years in age. The study has also provided new evidence that use of kerosene stoves for cooking may also result in pneumonia in young children.

Compared with those who use electric stove, heater or LPG, the risk of pneumonia among solid fuel and kerosene stove users was about two times higher.

Though most people are aware about the risks, they continue to use solid fuel and kerosene because of their poor economic condition.

Many people follow the traditional way of cooking just because they have been habituated to it.

Maiya Laxmi, 22, is another victim of household pollution or indoor pollution. She has been suffering from cough for many years. She has visited a number of hospitals but her problem has persisted. “I am getting used to my coughing problem as there is no treatment,” shares Maiya Laxmi. Though there is a LPG stove in her kitchen, she uses firewood to cook food.

Apparently, her mother-in-law doesn´t like food cooked on LPG stove. “There is no way out of this problem,” shares Maiya Laxmi.

Household pollution or indoor pollution is one of the major reasons why children suffer from multiple health problems like difficulty in respiration and cough, according to surgeons.

Housewives and children suffer the most as they are the ones who are exposed more to such pollution.

The report which was published on 2013 shows increasing household air pollution is responsible for pneumonia and serious ailments that sometimes leads to death.

Academia and researchers from Child Health Division, Institute of Medicine, Tribhuvan University, Winrock International, Kathmandu; University of California, Berkeley; Statens Serum Institute, Denmark; University of Bergen, Norway; University Hospital of North Norway and Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Oslo Norway were involved in the research. The results were published online on March 19, 2013 in the Environmental Health Perspective, one of the widely read environmental health journal.

The study was conducted between 2007 and 2008 among the children of Sipadol in Bhaktapur.

The study found that children who lived in the house where kerosene or biomass stove was in use were two times likely to suffer from pneumonia compared to electric or LPG stoves. Around 18 percent of pneumonia cases have been attributed to the use of fuels that emit more smoke.

The research was conducted by a nine-member team comprising of national and international experts.

“In villages, solid fuels are often burned without chimneys or ventilation, which is more harmful,” says Ram K Chandyo, one of the researchers and surgeon at Siddhi Memorial Hospital.

Amod K Pokhrel, another researcher, says, “On the basis of the pilot study conducted in Bhaktapur, we are now trying to conduct large scale research in Pokhara.”
The team is already in Pokhara and completing their training session for the new research on household pollution.

In Nepal, out of every 1000 children under the age of 5, about 250 suffer from pneumonia. It is also the major killer of children below five. The Ministry of Health and Population (MOHP) has recognized it as one of the major public health problems in Nepal.

Household air pollution from solid-fuel increases the risk of pneumonia through immune suppression mechanism. According to MOHP, about 86% of the households in the country use biomass stoves for cooking and heating.

Published on 2013-05-08 07:01:41
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