We need clean air for healthy life

The main function of the lungs, which are the major organs of the respiratory system, is to take in air from the atmosphere and pass oxygen into the bloodstream, from where it circulates to the rest of the body.

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Apart from ensuring that the body receives a continuous supply of oxygen, the lungs process gas, ensuring that as oxygen from incoming air enters the blood, carbon dioxide, a waste gas from the metabolism, leaves the blood, in an exchange called respiration (breathing).

Through this process, the lungs take more than six million breaths per year and affect every aspect of our bodies and health. A reduced lung function, therefore, means that the ability of the lungs to exchange gases is reduced, which can be detrimental to one’s health.

This also presupposes that the lungs need to be healthy at all times. Indeed, experts say that breathing in air pollutants does not only irritate the airways, but causes shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, asthma episodes and chest pain.

Exposure to air pollution also puts everyone at risk of lung cancer, heart attacks, stroke and in extreme cases, premature death. Research has also confirmed that prolonged exposure to polluted air has a correlation with a higher incidence of lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and cancer.

Ensuring clean air quality is, therefore,  paramount. This makes the launch of the Ghana Urban Air Quality Project (GHAir) Week, last month, in collaboration with Breathe Accra, the University of Cape Coast, with funding from the Clean Air Fund, very timely.

According to Associate Professor of Epidemiology at the University of Cape Coast (UCC), Kofi Amegah, the objective was to accelerate air quality improvements in Accra to protect public health and help inspire greater action on air pollution in other African cities, which we see as being a just cause.

While we often downplay the importance of clean air, results from improved air quality monitoring have indicated that the Madina, Makola, Agbogbloshie markets, Chorkor and Madina Zongo Junction are the five most polluted hotspots in Accra.

This must be a source of concern for all inhabitants of the capital city, not only because the air in one area cannot be prevented from moving into another area but also because as stated by an acting Director at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Selina Amoah, “there are about 28,000 deaths per year, and the number is projected to increase if no action is taken to tackle the issues.”

She also said air pollution was a major contributor to public health such as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, birth defects, damage to the human nervous system, cancer and premature death.

The pollution is mainly caused by rapid urbanisation and emissions from industrial and human activities which are rapidly degrading air quality, particularly in urban areas.

This should be a clarion call that we must no longer treat the pollution of the air as “business as usual”. When we do that we expose ourselves to danger.

We should speak up when neighbours decide to burn their refuse openly, when vehicles plying our roads emit thick bursts of carbon monoxide, when factories pollute the air with smoke or dust particles, when contractors working on our roads dump earth that ends up as dust in our homes.

Although the week-long activities lined up for the GHAir campaign may have ended, we still must continue engaging schools on asthma and air pollution, discuss air pollution, climate change, and have risk communication in selected market areas to end the high incidence of air pollution in the country.

Also, sensors must be put in the metropolitan areas of the country to bridge the air quality data gaps in those settlements for public health protection, while the EPA must be on top of its game to ensure compliance.

The Police MTTD and the Driver, Vehicle and Licensing Authority must also help to remove smoking vehicles from our roads. After all, as rightly espoused by the Country Lead for the Clean Air Fund, Desmond Appiah, access to clean air is a fundamental human right that everyone must enjoy.

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