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Global health

Johns Hopkins shares $30 million grant to study household air pollution

Pollution from cookstoves linked to low birth weights, heart and lung problems in developing countries

The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and two other universities will share a five-year, $30 million grant for a field study on the impact of cleaner-burning cooking fuel on household air pollution and health in four countries. The funding comes from the National Institutes of Health in collaboration with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Globally, 3 billion people still cook or heat with open fires or traditional stoves using solid fuels, such as wood, coal, and charcoal, according to NIH.

The lead researchers are William Checkley, associate professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine; Jennifer Peel, professor of epidemiology at Colorado State University; and Thomas Clasen, professor of environmental health at Emory University, who will lead the team.

Globally, 3 billion people still cook or heat with open fires or traditional stoves using solid fuels, such as wood, coal, and charcoal, according to NIH.

"Indoor air pollution caused by cookstoves is one of the top health risks in developing countries, causing deaths from low birth weight among babies, pneumonia in young children, and heart and lung problems in adults," NIH Director Francis S. Collins says. "By working with our global partners on alternative fuel solutions, we have an opportunity to reduce that risk significantly for millions of people."

The research team will establish trial sites in India, Guatemala, Peru, and Rwanda, with plans to recruit 800 pregnant women at each site into the study. Half of the subjects will be randomly assigned to receive liquefied petroleum gas stoves, and the other half will use their traditional cooking methods. Mothers and their children will be monitored from when the baby is still in utero until the children are 2 years old.

Investigators will check stove use and the participants' exposure to household air pollution. There will also be extensive evaluations of health outcomes, including children's birth weight, preterm birth, growth, and respiratory infections. Adults will be monitored for respiratory symptoms, blood pressure, inflammation, and other indicators of heart disease.

"There is insufficient evidence that the introduction of cleaner stoves leads to significant health benefits. Indeed, previous studies using more efficient biomass-burning stoves have failed to reduce household air pollution and improve health in children and adults," Checkley says. "This trial's goal is to provide proof of concept that reduction of household air pollution with a clean [liquefied petroleum gas] fuel stove can improve air quality substantially and result in better health outcomes. Moreover, the broad range of health outcomes that we will assess will provide an unprecedented opportunity to link health and exposure to household air pollution."