Uganda’s air quality index unknown: Health ministry

Air pollution is one of the biggest environmental threats to human health, alongside climate change

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | While the World Health Organization-WHO warns of catastrophic health consequences arising from the fact that more than 90% of the people across the globe are breathing in bad air, it remains unclear how Uganda rates, affecting the choice of specific interventions adopted to prevent public health emergencies that linger.

To guide countries on how they measure, the global health body has developed an Air Quality Index. This is a yardstick used to determine how a country rates in terms of pollution whereby the higher the index value, the greater the level of air pollution and the greater the health concern.

But Moses Kabangi Mwigo, the Commissioner Environmental Health in the Ministry of Health says they are only planning to conduct a vulnerability assessment across the country to determine where Uganda falls.

He says this data whose collection starts in June will then inform what they will include in their adaptation plan as initiatives that can help soothe against climate related health problems.

Like many countries, Uganda is expected to experience some of the worst effects of polluted air including increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, cancer, pneumonia and mental illness.

Officials in the Ministry say some of climate change induced problems are already here. For instance, Mwigo says in 2021 alone, they had more than two hundred thousand people affected by extreme weather events such as floods, mudslides, extreme heat and disease outbreaks.

Apart from that, donors and researchers at Makerere University have installed air quality monitors that are giving clues on especially how Kampala city rates in terms of air pollution. So far, data for Kampala by the US Embassy which started monitoring in 2017 points to the fact that air quality in the city is six times worse than the WHO measure for bad air.

From the monitor installed at the ministry, Mwigo says alarms are always going off alerting them about air especially during hours of heavy traffic.

The Commissioner made the sad statements while addressing a meeting held as part of the events to mark World Health Day whose theme this year runs was, ‘Our Planet, Our Health’.

At the meeting, a conservation NGO, Tree Adoption Uganda (TAU) donated two trees to the Ministry of Health in a campaign that will run throughout the country where each government health facility is required to plant a tree.

In Kampala health facilities, Dr. Charles Batte, the Executive Director of the organization says in this exercise which is promoted as a climate and health strategy, they plan to plant a hundred trees whose growth will be monitored through satellite. The team has developed an app where they take a picture of each tree and capture the GPS coordinates to allow swift monitoring.

On his part, Dr. Bayo Fatunmbi, the Acting WHO representative said initiatives like tree planting are coming in handy to mitigate climate change effects and also asked Uganda to act on the twenty six commitments they adopted at the Global Climate Change Conference last year.

“WHO estimates that more than 13million deaths occur around the world each year due to climate change. Concrete and sustained actions taken today will help ensure a safe and healthy planet”, he said.



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