Background: Almost half of global child deaths due to acute lower respiratory infections (ALRI) occur in sub-Saharan Africa, where three quarters of the population cook with solid fuels. This study aims to quantify the impact of fuel type and cooking practices on childhood ALRI mortality in Africa, and to explore implications for public health interventions.
Methods: Early-release World Health Survey data for the year 2003 were pooled for sixteen African countries. Among 32,620 children born during the last ten years, 1,455 (4.46%) were reported to have died prior to their fifth birthday. Survival analysis was used to examine the impact of different cooking-related parameters on ALRI mortality, defined as cough accompanied by rapid breathing or chest indrawing based on maternal recall of symptoms prior to death.
Results: Solid fuel use increases the risk of ALRI mortality with an adjusted hazard ratio of 2.35 (1.22; 4.52); this association grows stronger with increasing outcome specificity. Differences between households burning solid fuels on a well-ventilated stove and households relying on cleaner fuels are limited. In contrast, cooking with solid fuels in the absence of a chimney or hood is associated with an adjusted hazard ratio of 2.68 (1.38; 5.23). Outdoor cooking is less harmful than indoor cooking but, overall, stove ventilation emerges as a more significant determinant of ALRI mortality.
Conclusions: This study shows substantial differences in ALRI mortality risk among African children in relation to cooking practices, and suggests that stove ventilation may be an important means of reducing indoor air pollution.