In 2020, 1 in 13 children in sub-Saharan Africa died before reaching their fifth birthday. These deaths are usually attributed to natal complications, sicknesses, and poor health system, which is true.
But have you cared to ask the source of the sicknesses and diseases claiming our children’s lives?
Have you stopped to inquire about the conditions that resulted in that birth complication?
The truth is a greater percentage of infant mortality and child deaths in Africa are ripple effects of the degradation and pollution of our environment.

What is the connection between environmental pollution and children deaths?

In Africa, the poor quality of drinking water that faeces, chemicals or infectious organisms have polluted is a critical problem. Bad water can cause life-threatening diarrhoea and vomiting in children. On the other hand, insufficient clean water can lead to dehydration and fluid volume depletion. The loss of large quantities of fluids and salts from the body can quickly kill children, especially those under five.
Poor sanitation is another cause of children deaths. Children in urban slums and deprived communities are daily exposed to bacteria from open sewers and refuse dumps. As we all know, a dirty environment is a breeding ground for disease-causing germs and bacteria, and as such, the children are vulnerable. Typhoid, malaria, and other sicknesses are all traceable to a dirty environment. And these sicknesses claim the lives of millions of African children every year.
Emerging environmental risks, such as improperly discarded electronic and electrical waste (such as obsolete mobile phones, cars etc), expose children to pollutants that can lead to diminished IQ, attention impairments, lung damage, and cancer.
When it comes to air pollution, children are most vulnerable. Africa is undergoing serious urban development, but these developments come at a dire price – pollution. The worst is air pollution – both ambient (car exhaust, smoke, industrial emissions) and indoor (use of coal and fossil fuels for cooking and heating, cigarette smoke).
Every second, children breathe air that is so polluted, it puts their health and development at serious risk and ultimately leads to their death. According to WHO, in 2016, about 600,000 children died from acute lower respiratory infections caused by polluted air.
Reports from WHO also reveal that when pregnant women are exposed to polluted air, they are more likely to give birth prematurely and have small, low birth-weight children. Air pollution also impacts children’s neurodevelopment, leading to cognitive defects like autism, IQ degradation, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), etc. Polluted air can alter gene regulation in a way that may impact long-term health. Studies have proved that children exposed to air pollution for as little as one day are liable to higher rates of heart disease and respiratory conditions like asthma, lung cancer, pneumonia, stroke, etc., in their immediate future or later in life.
Another hazard is chemical pollution. Young children and pregnant women are exposed to produced chemicals on a daily basis through the air, water, consumer products, and food. Fluoride, lead and mercury insecticides, persistent organic pollutants, and other chemicals found in manufactured items eventually make their way into the food chain. These chemicals have been shown to be harmful to children’s development. Hundreds more, however, have never been tested for safety or toxicity due to lax government controls, and their potential threats to children’s health remain unknown.
Neurotoxic contaminants, for example, are thought to impair children’s brain development. Even modest levels of lead exposure during pregnancy and early development can result in lower IQ and impaired learning in childhood, juvenile delinquency in adolescence, and an increased risk of violent crime in adulthood. During childhood, exposure to these neurotoxic chemicals has been associated with learning impairments, ADHD, behaviour disorders, and autism. A key unsolved concern is whether there are other chemicals in use today whose dangers to children’s health have not yet been recognised since they have never been evaluated.

What do we do?

We put our children’s future in danger when we make lifestyle choices that are not eco-friendly and sustainable.
Below are ways environmental pollution can be curbed.

Install modern toilets in impoverished communities:

Government, NGOs and INGOs should initiate grassroots programs to curb open defecation and construct modern toilets in impoverished communities. This will reduce the contamination of our environment through faecal materials.

Implementation of policies to reduce air pollution:

All countries should implement WHO global air quality guidelines to enhance the health and safety of children. To achieve this, governments should adopt such measures as reducing the over-dependence on fossil fuels in the global energy mix, investing in improvements in energy efficiency and adopting smart energy choices like wind and solar energy.

Waste management:

Better waste management can reduce the amount of waste burned within communities, thereby reducing ‘community air pollution. Government should provide recycling plants where wastes like plastics, tyres, and other waste are recycled for other use.

Clean energy:

Families should adopt the use of clean technologies and fuels for household cooking, heating and lighting activities; this can drastically improve the air quality within homes and the surrounding community.

Water recycling and treatment:

The government must take the lead to reduce industrial wastewater, supervise proper disposal of wastewater by industries and revive water service companies to test water quality, recycle water and treat used water. Families can also treat their drinking water by boiling, refrigerating and chlorination.

Reduction of chemical use in agriculture:

Reducing fertilisers and pesticides and encouraging manure and other organic products in agriculture will curb the contamination of the soil and water. Also, it will increase the quality of farm produce.

Reforestation and afforestation:

Government should adopt reforestation and afforestation programs to grow back depleted forest reserves; this will reduce the greenhouse effect, absorb more carbon and improve air quality.

Minimise children’s exposure to polluted air:

Schools, children parks and playgrounds should be located away from major sources of air pollution like busy roads, factories and power plants.

Environmental cleanups:

Communities should initiate general cleanup exercises to clean their environment; gutters, sewers, dumpsites etc.; this will ensure that our children grow up in a clean environment and reduce the incidence of diseases and sicknesses.

No smoking policy at home:

Parents should institute a no-smoking policy to curb their carbon footprint, ensuring that children breathe clean air and curb respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. This policy should be adopted in schools, places of worship and other institutions.

What we do at DO

Support a Sick Child project involves gifting a kit of essential medicines, fruit baskets or toys to underprivileged parents and caregivers of children in rural and semi-rural areas.
We could end the diseases and sicknesses affecting our children by simply taking action against environmental pollution.
Lend your voice in advocacy by joining us and carrying out a ‘support a sick child’ project or other related projects in your community.
As a company or business, you can collaborate with us via partnerships and donations to end the menace of environmental pollution.
Save the future. Save our children.

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