What Kampala’s Worsening Air Quality means to Children – New Study

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Kampala's worsening air quality is a major health concern to health activists; Courtesy Photo

A new study reveals evidence that early exposure to dirty air alters genes in a way that could lead to adult heart disease, among other ailments.

The findings of this study presents a great concern to Kampala City dwellers since authorities have consistently reported that air quality index measured across the city is far higher than World Health Organization (WHO) Air Quality Guidelines.

According to a new Stanford-led study, children exposed to air pollution, such as wildfire smoke and car exhaust, for as little as one day may be doomed to higher rates of heart disease and other ailments in adulthood.

The analysis, published in Nature Scientific Reports, is the first of its kind to investigate air pollution’s effects at the single cell level and to simultaneously focus on both the cardiovascular and immune systems in children. The study findings could change the way medical experts and parents think about the air children breathe and inform clinical interventions

It however confirms previous research that bad air can alter gene regulation in a way that may impact long-term health -a finding that could change the way medical experts and parents think about the air children breathe, and inform clinical interventions for those exposed to chronic elevated air pollution.

The researchers studied a predominantly Hispanic group of children ages 6-8 in Fresno, California, a city beset with some of the country’s highest air pollution levels due to industrial agriculture and wildfires, among other sources.

Using a combination of continuous daily pollutant concentrations measured at central air monitoring stations in Fresno, daily concentrations from periodic spatial sampling and meteorological and geophysical data, the study team estimated average air pollution exposures for 1 day, 1 week and 1, 3, 6 and 12 months prior to each participant visit.

When combined with health and demographics questionnaires, blood pressure readings and blood samples, the data began to paint a troubling picture.

The researchers used a form of mass spectrometry to analyze immune system cells for the first time in a pollution study. The approach allowed for more sensitive measurements of up to 40 cell markers simultaneously, providing a more in-depth analysis of pollution exposure impacts than previously possible.

A real-time check on American Embassy Air Quality Control Centre 11am, 28/02/2021 is in Orange, classifying air quality as “unhealthy for sensitive groups” with a reading of 129. But selected areas like Kitebi, Kasubi, Kireka and Nsambya are in Red with the highest reading at 186(g/m3)! -8 times higher than WHO Air Quality Guidelines 25(g/m3). Clearly, the situation is worsening.

In fact, Kampala has a high concentration of tinny air particles, small enough to invade even the smallest airways. These are scientifically known as Particulate Matter, 2.5 micrometres (PM2.5).

Uganda’s annual mean levels of PM2.5 far exceeds the WHO guidelines by up to five times (48.7 micrograms per cubic meter [g/m3] of ultra-fine particles of 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter which can penetrate and lodge inside the cardiovascular system).

The Air Quality Index scale as defined by the United States of America Environmental Protection Agency’s 2016 standards indicates that readings below 50(g/m3) show that the air quality is good with little or no health risk. If the air quality gauge is 101 to 150 (g/m3), people with respiratory diseases such as asthma plus active children and adults should limit prolonged outdoor activities.

Study findings:

Exposure to fine particulate known as PM2.5, carbon monoxide and ozone over time is linked to increased methylation, an alteration of DNA molecules that can change their activity without changing their sequence.

This change in gene expression may be passed down to future generations. The researchers also found that air pollution exposure correlates with an increase in monocytes, white blood cells that play a key role in the buildup of plaques in arteries, and could possibly predispose children to heart disease in adulthood. Future studies are needed to verify the long-term implications.

Hispanic children bear an unequal burden of health ailments, especially in California, where they are exposed to higher traffic-related pollution levels than non-Hispanic children. Among Hispanic adults, prevalence for uncontrolled hypertension is greater compared with other races and ethnicities in the U.S., making it all the more important to determine how air pollution will affect long-term health risks for Hispanic children.

Overall, respiratory diseases are killing more Americans each year, and rank as the second most common cause of deaths globally.

“This is everyone’s problem,” said study senior author Kari Nadeau, director of the Parker Center. “Nearly half of Americans and the vast majority of people around the world live in places with unhealthy air. Understanding and mitigating the impacts could save a lot of lives.”

Nadeau is also the Naddisy Foundation Professor in Pediatric Food Allergy, Immunology, and Asthma, professor of medicine and of pediatrics and, by courtesy, of otolaryngology at the Stanford School of Medicine, and a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. While there is indeed serious problems associated with air pollution, the deduction made by this study that pollution may cause genetic alterations that could lead to heart disease I find them doubtful. I am aware that heart disease has been associated with smoking, but there is usually not a very strong correlation for smoking to be the causative agent for heart disease. Unless, the study is using this inference, I don’t believe that there is a strong correlation of heart disease, genetic alterations with city pollution. First of all, how long (years) was the study done. Usually it would require long time data of pollution exposure and prevalence of heart disease or genetic alteration cases for the correlation to be established. And in the case for Uganda, I have not known that or such a study was being undertaken. All I can assume at this stage is that somebody is only making inferences without empirical data for the case of Uganda. Which brings into question the report and the intention of the study.

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