The world has been on red alert about global health since news last year focused in on the Zika virus proliferating in South America. The Zika virus is scarcely the first public health concern to phase the world. There was the Ebola crisis in certain African countries, not to mention more ubiquitous public health issues like cholera, yellow fever, and HIV/AIDS.

You might feel familiar with all the public health issues of the current age, or then again you might be surprised to learn that a deceptively simple activity, cooking, is actually a source of concern for many public health officials.

Most people probably don’t think of indoor cooking as a source of public health concern at the global level. However, each year 3.5 to 4.3 million people die from indoor air pollution, which is more than the number of people who die worldwide from HIV/AIDS and malaria combined. Most of these deaths happen among the poor in Africa and Asia.

Many people most at risk can’t afford or don’t have access to newer sources of energy, so instead they cook using fuel such as coal, charcoal, and wood. Unfortunately, using these fuels in a closed space can lead to respiratory diseases such as lung cancer over a period of time. Some of the countries affected have tried to run campaigns to get people to switch to cleaner fuels, but thus far they have not been very effective.

There are some very real gender and age disparities to consider as well, since women and children still spend the most time in the kitchen in much of the world. Cost is a challenging factor also, since fuels like wood are often cheaper than healthier, non-solid sources. However, it looks as though the technique of providing wood-burning stoves with chimneys has potential as a solution for some families.


Header Image: SEBASTIAN D'SOUZA / Stringer