• Ghana's Looming Crisis: The Silent Threat of Air Pollution

Air Quality Monitoring

Ghana's Looming Crisis: The Silent Threat of Air Pollution

Sep 29 2023

Air pollution in Ghana is exacting a heavy toll on both public health and the economy, yet it remains a largely overlooked issue. Every year, nearly 24,000 Ghanaians meet premature deaths due to the adverse effects of air pollution, with childhood exposure to polluted air linked to severe mental health issues in adulthood. Furthermore, economically, Ghana loses an estimated 1.6 billion U.S. dollars annually due to air pollution, a problem that desperately needs political attention and action in the upcoming 2024 elections.

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) has identified air pollution as the primary environmental risk factor in Ghana, responsible for the majority of deaths and disabilities. Ironically, while public attention is often drawn to accidents on specific roads, the insidious fumes emanating from minibus exhaust pipes, known locally as "trotros," go unnoticed. It's crucial to raise awareness about Ghana's air pollution crisis and emphasise why it should be a central issue in the forthcoming elections.

Experts concur that the most dangerous airborne pollutant is Particulate Matter 2.5 (PM2.5), which poses significant health risks due to the tiny size of its particles. Alarming data from Kaneshie in Accra consistently reports PM2.5 levels far exceeding the World Health Organisation's recommended 24-hour exposure limit of 15 μg/m3. For instance, on September 5, 2023, the PM2.5 levels in Kaneshie stood at a hazardous 155 μg/m3.

The consequences of air pollution in Ghana are dire. Premature deaths are only the tip of the iceberg. Childhood exposure to polluted air leads to cognitive decline and even schizophrenia in adulthood, while respiratory problems afflict individuals from birth to old age, as documented by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH). Despite these alarming health and economic repercussions, air pollution remains conspicuously absent from the political agenda, public discourse, and government policies.

One significant challenge lies in the invisible nature of air pollution's effects. Ghana lacks comprehensive real-time air quality monitoring systems, making it difficult to assess the full extent of this looming crisis. In Ghana, both indoor and outdoor sources contribute to air pollution, including solid fuel combustion for cooking and heating, waste incineration, vehicle emissions, and dust from unpaved roads. While these sources can be managed, there's a glaring lack of action to improve air quality.

Ghana isn't alone in grappling with this issue; it's a continent-wide concern. In 2019, air pollution was responsible for over half of Africa's 1.1 million premature deaths. Vulnerable populations, including the elderly, those with pre-existing health conditions, mothers, and children who spend their days indoors, suffer the most from airborne pollutants associated with solid fuel use. Additionally, the prevalence of older, more polluting vehicles on Ghana's roads and the lack of paved surfaces exacerbates air quality issues in urban areas.

One major hurdle is the scarcity of air quality data, which limits the understanding of air pollution's impact. However, as Dr. Collins Gameli Hodoli asserts, there's ample global evidence highlighting the gravity of this challenge. The high rate of premature deaths in women and children, increased respiratory infections, and worsened asthma attacks underscore the urgent need for better health surveillance data and site-specific air pollution information.

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