By Sharon Atieno

The smoke produced mainly from cooking and heating with fossil fuels such as wood, kerosene and charcoal is responsible for 634,000 preventable deaths each year in the Sub-Saharan Africa region.

It is against this background, that the region’s first Air Pollution Centre of Excellence to conduct air quality monitoring and research has been established in Kenya at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI).

The Centre which houses state-of-the-art air monitoring equipment and training facilities was established through collaboration between the CLEAN-Air (Africa) Global Health Research Unit (a partnership between KEMRI, University of Liverpool, Moi University, University of Dar es Salaam, Makerere University Lung Institute, Rwanda Biomedical Center, Eagle Research Center and Douala General Hospital) and the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR).

“The hub is going to contribute immensely in reducing the number of deaths as a result of exposures to indoor air pollution in Kenya and other African countries,” Dr. James Mwitari, Co-Director and Principal Investigator KEMRI-CLEAN Air (Africa) Project said during the launch.

Besides research, he noted that the information generated from monitoring can be utilized to mobilize governments to invest in reducing exposure to air pollution generally.

Dr. James Mwitari during the launch

The hub will also serve as a training center for journalists. They will be trained in effective communication on air pollution in order to raise population awareness of the burden of using polluting fuels.

Additionally, the Centre will serve as a coordinating unit for training community health volunteers across Kenya’s 47 counties under the objectives of the CLEAN-Air (Africa) Global Health Research Unit which seeks to strengthen health systems through disease prevention.

Other objectives of the Unit involve research to address barriers to switching to clean cooking and impacts on households and identify hidden health burdens associated with fossil fuels. They also seek to evaluate the transition of schools to clean cooking as well as engage and influence policymakers to help scale the adoption of clean cooking.

With the launch of the hub and the Unit happening together, Prof. Sam Kariuki, KEMRI’s Director-General said that the Unit will play a significant part in helping Africa meet the agenda of sustainable development goal (SDG) 7 – to ensure universal access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy by 2030.

Currently, African countries are off track in meeting this goal. So much so, that the International Energy Agency (IEA) states: “Clean cooking access in sub-Saharan Africa needs to improve around 15 times faster over 2022-2030 than historic levels- an improvement rate unprecedented anywhere in the world.”