By Sarah Rylance, Rebecca Nightingale, Andrew Naunje, Frank Mbalume, Chris Jewell, John R Balmes, Jonathan Grigg, Kevin Mortimer. Published in Thorax. August 29, 2019.
Non-communicable lung disease and exposure to air pollution are major problems in sub-Saharan Africa. A high burden of chronic respiratory symptoms, spirometric abnormalities and air pollution exposures has been found in Malawian adults; whether the same would be true in children is unknown. This cross-sectional study of children aged 6-8 years, in rural Malawi, included households from communities participating in the Cooking and Pneumonia Study (CAPS), a trial of cleaner-burning biomass-fuelled cookstoves. We assessed; chronic respiratory symptoms, anthropometry, spirometric abnormalities (using Global Lung Initiative equations) and personal carbon monoxide (CO) exposure. Prevalence estimates were calculated, and multivariable analyses were done. We recruited 804 children (mean age 7.1 years, 51.9% female), including 476 (260 intervention; 216 control) from CAPS households. Chronic respiratory symptoms (mainly cough (8.0%) and wheeze (7.1%)) were reported by 16.6% of children. Average height-for-age and weight-for-age z-scores were -1.04 and -1.10, respectively. Spirometric abnormalities (7.1% low forced vital capacity (FVC); 6.3% obstruction) were seen in 13.0% of children. Maximum CO exposure and carboxyhaemoglobin levels (COHb) exceeded WHO guidelines in 50.1% and 68.5% of children, respectively. Children from CAPS intervention households had lower COHb (median 3.50% vs 4.85%, p=0.006) and higher FVC z-scores (-0.22 vs -0.44, p=0.05) than controls. The substantial burden of chronic respiratory symptoms, abnormal spirometry and air pollution exposures in children in rural Malawi is concerning; effective prevention and control strategies are needed. Our finding of potential benefit in CAPS intervention households calls for further research into clean-air interventions to maximise healthy lung development in children.
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