They’re little more than a pile of burning sticks with a stewpot atop them. But these open fires or basic cookstoves have been linked to the premature deaths of 4 million people annually, many of them young children.
Three billion people around the world rely on wood, charcoal, agricultural waste, animal dung and coal for household cooking needs. They often burn these fuels inside their homes in poorly ventilated stoves or in open fires.
The resulting miasma exposes families to air pollution levels as much as 50 times greater than World Health Organization guidelines for clean air, setting the stage for heart and lung disease.
Household air pollution can also lead to pneumonia in children and low birth weight in infants.
Now researchers believe the smoke may be a contributing factor in bacterial meningitis outbreaks in countries such as Ghana, whose northern region is located in Africa’s “meningitis belt.”
An estimated 300 million people live in the meningitis belt, which includes part or all of The Gambia, Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Central African Republic, Sudan, South Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia and Eritrea.