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Tackling air pollution a top priority as countries mark World Health Day

Dandora trash site   -  
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Brian Inganga/Copyright 2021 The AP. All rights reserved.


As countries mark World Health Day, the World Health Organisation has highlighted air pollution as a top danger.

But at the Dandora dump site on the outskirts of the Kenyan capital Nairobi, toxic fumes from burning waste does not stop people from scavenging here for anything that might be worth selling.

"We face a lot of problems here, for example the smoke nowadays is a lot. Even breathing is a problem and you cannot see who is in front of you because of the smoke. But I have nowhere to go and nothing else," said Jane Muthoni who relies on the mountain of trash to provide a living.

Toxic fumes from dump sites are not the only issue. Pollution from heavy traffic in the capital and other major cities is also to blame for respiratory problems in Kenya.

Experts like Dr Videllis Nduba of the Kenya Medical Research Institute’s Centre for Respiratory Diseases Research argue that government needs to be more involved in achieving good healthcare for its citizens.

"It is fantastic that the World Health Organization is advocating for universal access to health and has identified air pollution as a major driver of ill health. But this requires a lot of regulation and backing from governments,” he said.

Nduba said governments need to invest in health infrastructure and strengthen health systems in order to provide proper access to care, especially for poor populations.

He said he believes there needs to be more initiatives in Kenya to move to using cleaner fuels.

“I think if the government can invest more energy in reducing pollution, creating standards for ageing vehicles' maintenance, this can really improve the lung health in cities in Kenya and in Africa."

The WHO theme this year, 'My Health, My Right', aims to raise awareness about health and wellbeing, especially with regards to priority areas like air pollution.

"Pollutants in the environment affect the respiratory system, affect the cardiovascular system, and can lead to premature death. The WHO is advocating for strong and bold policies around the use of clean fuel and energies,” said Dr Eunice Omesa, a technical officer at WHO.

She believes World Health Day is the ideal moment to call for action.

But the hope of clean air seems a long way off for the people who rely on pickings from the Dandora dumpsite for their survival.

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