A spectacular display conveying a serious message took place on the opening day of the 47th Union World Conference on Lung Health, when open fires were lit in specially built miniature housing in the piazza outside the venue. The housing was built by students from Liverpool Life Sciences UTC and the fires were tended by firefighters from Operation Florian; a UK based international humanitarian charity with a mission to save lives worldwide.
The display showed the risks posed by fire and consequent air pollution to the many people - approximately half the world’s population - who rely on biomass fuels (animal or plant material) for their daily energy needs. Around four million people die every year from exposure to biomass smoke.
It also served to demonstrate by contrast a positive solution to this problem, an African Clean Energy cookstove, the ACE-1, which is among the cleanest and most high-tech stoves available. The solar powered stove can provide light and charging facilities by USB as well as heat and cooking facilities with greatly reduced smoke emissions.
The session was coordinated by Operation Florian and Dr Kevin Mortimer of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. It took place against the release at The Union World Conference of the initial results of a two year Cooking and Pneumonia Study (CAPS). This is the largest trial of its kind in the world, appraising the health benefits of cleaner cookstoves for 10,000 children under five in Malawi, Africa.
The study saw households in 150 randomly assigned villages replace their open-fire cooking with efficient biomass fan-assisted cookstoves. Smoke from burning biomass in open fires is a major avoidable risk in developing pneumonia and is well known to cause other health problems including chronic lung disease, lung cancer, heart disease, stillbirth and low birth weight; it is also thought to be an important driver of global climate change.
The results of the ongoing study show that these safer cookstoves reduce the risk of burns in children under the age of five by over 40% compared to traditional open fire cooking.
Dr Kevin Mortimer said "The results of our study suggest that by themselves, cleaner burning biomass-fuelled cookstoves are not sufficient to reduce the risk of pneumonia in the under 5s. They do, however, appear to be substantially safer by reducing the risk of burns in young children.
“It is likely that cleaner burning cookstoves will be part of the solution but as part of a package of interventions. Such a package will need to address issues including the burning of rubbish - a common source of smoke exposure in our study - and tobacco smoking which is an increasing problem even in the world's poorest and most vulnerable populations".
The study is being implemented in Malawi through collaborative partnerships between the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, The Malawi-Liverpool-Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Programme, The Malawi College of Medicine and the Malawi Epidemiology and Intervention Research Unit.