Project launched to tackle air pollution in Kenya

A new project looking to explore the impact of air pollution on children in Kenya has been launched.

The project, Tupumue – the Swahili phrase for ‘let’s breathe’ – is being led by the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LTSM) and the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) and is being funded by medical research institutions in the UK and Kenya.

Researchers at The University of Portsmouth will also contribute to the project.

The three-year project will look to gain new scientific insight into the cause and effect of non-communicable lung disease in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi by studying the ongoing lung health of children and teenagers in the communities of Mukuru and Buruburu.

Launching Tupumue at the KEMRI in Nairobi, KEMRI’s principal investigator Jeremiah Chakaya said: ‘Our focus is on children and young adults aged 5 to 18 because this is the age at which lungs are developing and ill effects at this time of life can impact future health.

‘We will work in two areas: an informal settlement (Mukuru) and a wealthier area (Buruburu). These two areas are geographically very close but very different in terms of their socioeconomic makeup.’

A street scene in Mukuru, a slum in Nairobi, Kenya. Credit: Dennis Waweru

The British university will contribute to the study by exploring creative ways to examine the two communities’ knowledge about what damages lungs, and residents’ experiences in living with air pollution and lung health.

The results of the study will be fed back to the two communities using the medium of theatre as well as other expressive art forms such as comic books and murals.

Dr Cressida Bowyer, a senior research fellow in Portsmouth’s Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries and leader of its contribution to the project, said that Portsmouth hopes the project will lead to a better understanding of lung health in Nairobi.

Dr Bowyer said: ‘I’m so pleased that we have secured funding to continue the work of the AIR Network in Nairobi.

‘Having spent a year or so working with the community in Mukuru to build trust and develop effective communication strategies, we will now apply these strategies to gather quantitative and qualitative data about the lung health of vulnerable populations.

‘Our ultimate aim is to improve the health and wellbeing of those exposed to high levels of air pollution.’

Through Dr Bowyer, the University of Portsmouth also forms part of the AIR (Air Pollution Interdisciplinary Research) Network, a partnership of African and European researchers and African communities.

The AIR Network intends to create new community-led approaches to tackle air pollution and its effects on human health in Sub-Saharan Africa.