If you think air pollution in Nigeria is just a minor inconvenience, think again. It could be the silent killer slowly taking years off your life.
According to a 2019 study published in the Lancet Planetary Health journal, Nigeria accounted for the highest number of premature deaths caused by air pollution in sub-Saharan Africa.
It is vital now more than ever to gain awareness about how air pollution impacts your health and the steps you can take to reduce its harmful effects.
Understanding The Source
Before diving into diseases and symptoms, we must be aware of the sources of air pollution.
Emissions from cars, trucks, and vehicles are responsible for more than 50% of pollution in Lagos. Activities that cause air pollution include open burning of waste, mining, manufacturing, and oil production.
Using solid fuels like wood and charcoal for cooking and heating increases household air pollution, the primary cause of more than 95,000 deaths in Nigeria annually.
How Air Pollution Is Affecting Your Health
Feeling tightness in your chest, an itchy burning sensation at the back of your throat, or noticing frequent coughs; are all signs that your respiratory system has been affected by air pollution.
Our whole lung structure changes with long-term exposure to pollutants due to chronic inflammation, causing Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Symptoms of COPD include coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and fatigue.
There has been a proven link between the development of heart disease and increased exposure to air pollutants such as particulate matter (PM) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2).
Air pollution is a rising risk factor for developing lung, breast, pancreatic, and liver cancer.
How does this happen? Under exposure to pollutants, our immune system becomes less efficient at detecting and destroying cancerous cells.
Researchers are still working on uncovering the effects of air pollution on pregnancy, but here’s what we know so far.
Improve your indoor air quality
Decreasing air pollution inside the home is essential to the health and well-being of your family, especially if you have family members who are elderly or suffering from respiratory conditions.
Stay updated and informed
Regularly check air quality reports and opt to stay indoors on days when pollution levels are high.
If you must be outdoors, wear a mask designed to keep out pollution particles and avoid high-traffic areas.
Reduce your contribution to pollution
Avoid burning waste and seek proper disposal of trash.
Spread the message and speak up. Educate your neighbors, friends, and peers about the effects of air pollution.
Advocate for change by supporting community-led initiatives that promote environmental health. Some examples are WeCyclers and the Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF).
It is important to note that while you can take measures to protect yourself as an individual, large-scale policy changes and investments in clean energy sources are needed to solve the air pollution crisis in Nigeria. The education and awareness you have gained by reading this article is the first step in the right direction.
Amina Eisa, a medical doctor and public health advocate, wrote from Port Sudan, Sudan