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Kenyan Cookstoves Don’t Significantly Reduce Pollution

Saving money is one of the many benefits of clean cookstoves, which use natural gas, solar power or electricity, Kenya, May 2, 2012. Saving money is one of the many benefits of clean cookstoves, which use natural gas, solar power or electricity, Kenya, May 2, 2012.
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Saving money is one of the many benefits of clean cookstoves, which use natural gas, solar power or electricity, Kenya, May 2, 2012.
Saving money is one of the many benefits of clean cookstoves, which use natural gas, solar power or electricity, Kenya, May 2, 2012.

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Kim Lewis
A recent study examining the health impacts of ceramic cookstoves used in rural Kenyan households found that the risk of pneumonia in children was not significantly reduced.  The findings were published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, and are said to be the first of their kind. 

Dr. Rob Quick, a medical epidemiologist at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, said he and other researchers conducted a year-long observational study of the health impact of the ceramic stoves called upesi jikos on pneumonia in children under three years old.

“We found after a year that the use of these stoves did not significantly reduce the risk of pneumonia when compared to 3-stone fire pits that are used commonly in that area of Africa,” stated Quick, who also explained the stoves are produced locally according to a standard design and are popular.

“They reduce smoke substantially in the homes, which is one of the sources of their popularity.  They also reduce the risk of children getting burns.  And they provide convenient surface for women to prepare food on.   So these stoves are desirable for a number of other reasons, and we expect that women will continue to use them.  However, we would like to do something about the risk of pneumonia.  To that end, our group is studying six novel cookstove technologies designed to cleaner burning, and we should have results in the next few months to see if one or more of these cookstove designs offer potential for reducing the risk of pneumonia.”     

Quick pointed out that if they do find a stove that does lower the risk of pneumonia in children, then they will attempt to do a subsequent study on that stove to document the health impact.  At present thousands of households in Kenya own the ceramic indoor cookstoves.  Part of the reason for this, said Quick, is that the stoves are economical.

“Ceramic liner costs between two and three dollars—three U.S. dollars.  The installation maybe costs fifty cents to a dollar.  So, for people who earn less than a dollar, these stoves are very affordable.  As I mentioned earlier, they have a number of very desirable characteristics.  So they’re inexpensive and they’re relatively easy to install, and they support the local economy.   People make them, sell them, and install them.  So, they’re essentially creating jobs for people.”  

In the meantime, as research continues on finding improvements in the air quality resulting from the stoves, Quick explained there are some things women—as the main cooks in the household—can do to lower the risks of respiratory symptoms.

“Using these upesi jikos stoves is much preferable to the 3-stone fire pits—the traditional fires—you know which is essentially like a campfire, you know, with all of the smoke and everything, that’s worse.  But, they can do one of two things, if they’re going to use 3-stone fire pits, they can cook outside when weather permits, so the smoke doesn’t fill the house.  The other option is either to build a chimney in the house for the smoke to exit through, or to at least somehow create an opening near the stove for smoke to exit.  But honestly to really make this happen, you need cleaner burning stoves.”      

Quick emphasized that the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves is a partnership of governments, private companies, non-governmental organizations, and other organizations that include the U.N. and the WHO, with the goal of providing cookstoves to 100 million households.

“The reason for this alliance is this very large global problem of people burning these fires in their homes which put children at risk of pneumonia, put people at risk of burns, and also contribute to climate change.  The goal is to develop cleaner burning cookstoves that alleviate all these problems and move populations, particularly in the developing world, to a position of better health.”

Dr. David H. Walker, the new president of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, said “this research on cookstoves illustrates that the approach to improving children’s health must employ strategies that take a holistic view of the child, one that includes the home.”   He added that further studies will help determine where to allocate the increasingly dwindling funding for such studies.

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