The University of Portsmouth is helping to tackle air pollution and its harmful effects in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Researchers from the University’s Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries are part of the AIR (Action for Interdisciplinary Air Pollution Research) Network that has received funding from the Medical Research Council (MRC) and Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Global Challenges Research Fund Partnership Award.

The AIR Network is one of 12 Partnership Awards that have received over £2 million to bring together arts and humanities and medical research to address issues of public health in developing countries.

The AIR network, led by Dr Cressida Bowyer, Research Fellow (Enterprise and Innovation) at the University of Portsmouth, will develop an interdisciplinary research partnership of African and European researchers and African community members. The long-term aim is to create innovative solutions to air pollution and its effects on human health in low-resource settings in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Air pollution is a significant contributor to respiratory and cardiovascular disease and is recognised as a major global health concern. The World Health Organisation estimates that outdoor and indoor air pollution causes 6.5 million deaths every year1. Particulate matter (PM) is the mostly invisible particles in the air, including ash, smoke, soot, dust and fumes. Every breath a person takes contains PM and PM is the type of air pollution that most commonly causes ill health. In the developing world, exposure to indoor pollution, due to cooking, lighting and heating using cheap and dirty fuels, contributes to 4.3 million deaths a year. Outdoor and indoor PM concentrations are particularly high in Africa’s informal settlements, which are often located close to roads and industry. In Africa, fine PM is associated with 920,000 premature deaths a year and causes chronic lung disease in adults (mainly women) and pneumonia in children2.

The AIR team will visit informal settlements in Nairobi and work with local communities to gain understanding of the concerns and challenges that residents face with regard to air pollution. A mixture of methods will be used to engage and communicate, including theatre, visual arts, mobile phones, games and music. Researchers will explore opportunities to co-create viable, sustainable and culturally relevant interventions to reduce exposure to PM. By the end of the 18-month project, the AIR network will have identified a future programme of work, including specific initiatives to work with citizens to improve public health and to identify and apply for further funding.

The project is led by the Stockholm Environment Institute at the University of York. The network comprises of 15 partners from a wide range of disciplines sharing £169,000. Dr Bowyer is a Co-investigator while Professor Joan Farrer (Associate Dean for Enterprise and Innovation in CCI) and Professor Anoop Chauhan (Director of Research, Portsmouth Hospital Trust) sit on the advisory panel.

1 WHO releases country estimates on air pollution exposure and health impact

2 Forouzanfar MH et al. (2016). Global Burden of Disease Study 2015. Lancet, 388:1659-1724