Indoor use of stoves and firewood can expose children, especially those under the age of five to the risk of lung infection and respiratory diseases, a Public Health Physician, Dr. Rahmat Odesesan has warned.
She advised parents to stop the practice as well as avoid exposing their children to any form of smoke.
The physician who disclosed this during an interview with Healthwise revealed that indoor air pollution can lead to pneumonia in children.
Odesesan, who is the Medical Officer of Health, Ikorodu Local Government Area, Lagos State, explained, advised parents to ensure that the use of anything that emits smoke is done in an open, well-ventilated space.
She said, “Smoke affects the immune system and exposes children to the risk of pneumonia and other infections that can affect the lungs. Pneumonia is airborne and once it affects the lungs, they will not be able to function properly.
“Any form of smoke should be avoided inside the room. Anything emitting smoke should be used in a good-ventilated area.
“People should avoid cooking with stoves and firewood indoors to avoid exposing children to pneumonia.”
Continuing, she said, “They should cook outside where there is good ventilation. Don’t pollute the air in the room. The use of stove inside a room will make the air to be concentrated. This is dangerous to the lungs of both the child and the mother. Do your cooking where there is ventilation because a room is compacted.”
The physician further advised parents to stop presenting their children with pneumonia late to the hospital, especially when they are breathless and would require oxygen.
Odesesan said late presentation kills children with pneumonia and identified difficulty in breathing, fever, shock, loss of appetite, and restlessness as some of the symptoms of the disease.
“If you notice any changes in your child, take him to the hospital for proper medical evaluation”, she counselled.
As more concerns continue to emerge on the health implications of household air pollution, the World Health Organisation in a 2017 report notes that smoke-induced diseases are responsible for the death of 4.3 million people every year—which is more deaths caused by malaria or tuberculosis, thus, making it one of the most lethal environmental health risks worldwide.
Regrettably, the global health body notes that the largest burden of mortality is borne by women and young children.
Among these deaths, 12 per cent are due to pneumonia, 34 per cent from stroke, 26 per cent from ischaemic heart disease, 22 per cent from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and six per cent from lung cancer.
Pneumonia, the WHO explains is a form of acute respiratory infection that is most commonly caused by viruses or bacteria.
According to the global health body, pneumonia which can be prevented by vaccines can cause mild to life-threatening illness in people of all ages.
It states that pneumonia is the single largest infectious cause of death in children worldwide.
Odesesan noted that pneumonia is one of the major killers of children under-five, but could be prevented through good nutrition and hygiene practices.
Experts have posited that smoke from firewood or charcoal has led to serious health problems and causes 78,000 premature deaths yearly.
In a 2017 study published in PubMed Central journal, titled, ‘Firewood, smoke and respiratory diseases in developing countries—The neglected role of outdoor cooking’, the researchers reminded those still in habit of using stoves and firewood to cook indoors that smoke from cooking in the kitchen is one of the world’s leading causes of premature child death, claiming the lives of 500,000 children under-five annually.
The study analysed the role of outdoor cooking and the prevalence of respiratory diseases among children under the age of five using information from 41 surveys conducted in 30 developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
The study discovered that outdoor cooking reduces respiratory diseases among young children aged zero to four by around nine per cent, suggesting that simple behavioural interventions, such as promoting outdoor cooking, can have a substantial impact on health hazards.
Giving insight into the dangers of exposing children to indoor smoke, the researchers noted, “Young children are particularly vulnerable for two reasons; first, they are usually with their mothers during the cooking process and thus inhale large loads of particulate emission.
“In a recent systematic review, it was found that children’s particulate emission exposure is similar to their mothers’. Second, in comparison to adults, the still growing bodies of young children are more susceptible to acute respiratory infections, leading to a high death rate in this age group.”