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A Cross-Sectional Study of Household Biomass Fuel Use among a Periurban Population in Malawi

Piddock, Katherine, Gordon, Stephen ORCID:, Ngwira, Andrew, Msukwa, Malango, Nadeau, Gilbert, Davis, Kourtney J., Nyirenda, Moffat J. and Mortimer, Kevin ORCID: (2014) 'A Cross-Sectional Study of Household Biomass Fuel Use among a Periurban Population in Malawi'. Annals of the American Thoracic Society, Vol 11, Issue 6, pp. 915-924.

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Rationale: The Global Burden of Disease Study suggests almost 3.5 million people die as a consequence of household air pollution every year. Respiratory diseases including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and pneumonia in children are strongly associated with exposure to household air pollution. Smoke from burning biomass fuels for cooking, heating, and lighting is the main contributor to high household air pollution levels in low-income countries like Malawi. A greater understanding of biomass fuel use in Malawi should enable us to address household air pollution–associated communicable and noncommunicable diseases more effectively.

Objectives: To conduct a cross-sectional analysis of biomass fuel use and population demographics among adults in Blantyre, Malawi.

Methods: We used global positioning system–enabled personal digital assistants to collect data on location, age, sex, marital status, education, occupation, and fuel use. We describe these data and explore associations between demographics and reported fuel type.

Measurements and Main Results: A total of 16,079 adults participated (nine households refused); median age was 30 years, there was a similar distribution of men and women, 60% were married, and 62% received secondary school education. The most commonly reported occupation for men and women was “salaried employment” (40.7%) and “petty trader and marketing” (23.5%), respectively. Charcoal (81.5% of households), wood (36.5%), and electricity (29.1%) were the main fuels used at home. Only 3.9% of households used electricity exclusively. Lower educational and occupational attainment was associated with greater use of wood.

Conclusions: This large cross-sectional study has identified extensive use of biomass fuels in a typical sub-Saharan Africa periurban population in which women and people of lower socioeconomic status are disproportionately affected. Biomass fuel use is likely to be a major driver of existing communicable respiratory disease and the emerging noncommunicable disease (especially respiratory and cardiovascular) epidemic in this region. Our data will help inform the rationale for specific intervention studies and the development of appropriately targeted public health strategies to tackle this important and poverty-related global health problem.

Item Type: Article
Subjects: WA Public Health > WA 30 Socioeconomic factors in public health (General)
WA Public Health > Health Problems of Special Population Groups > WA 395 Health in developing countries
WA Public Health > Air pollution > WA 754 Pollution and pollutants (incl. tobacco pollution; passive smoking)
WF Respiratory System > WF 140 Diseases of the respiratory system (General)
Faculty: Department: Clinical Sciences & International Health > Clinical Sciences Department
Digital Object Identifer (DOI):
Depositing User: Lynn Roberts-Maloney
Date Deposited: 02 Jun 2015 10:45
Last Modified: 07 Oct 2019 08:24


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