The AIR Network - Action for Interdisciplinary air pollution Research

Lead Research Organisation: University of York
Department Name: Stockholm Environment Institute

Abstract

Air pollution is a major health concern around the world. Particulate matter (abbreviated as PM) is the mostly invisible particles in the air that stem from burning fuels such as charcoal, wood, petrol, kerosene. Every breath a person takes contains PM and PM is the type of air pollution that most commonly causes ill health. The smallest PM is known as fine PM or PM2.5 - the particles are only 2.5 microns (2.5 millionths of a metre) or less in diameter. These particles are so small that they can be inhaled deep into the lungs. In Africa alone, PM2.5 causes 670,000 premature deaths annually. As well as reducing life expectancy, it lowers the quality of life through respiratory and cardiovascular diseases often leading to a reduction in the resilience and productivity of people. Levels of this air pollutant are particularly high in informal settlements (sometimes referred to as slums), both outdoor and indoor: outdoor due to the location of settlements which is often near to industrial areas, busy and dusty roads, and sites of litter burning, and indoor due to cooking, lighting and heating with low-quality fuels in badly ventilated huts.

Attempts to improve air pollution and reduce people's exposure to it have been introduced in Nairobi's informal settlements in recent years, including awareness raising campaigns. However, significant positive effects on people's health have not yet been reported. New approaches are needed which bring together researchers from different disciplines and people who live and work in the informal settlements to discuss the issues, raise awareness and consider potential solutions. These solutions will integrate scientific, non-scientific and societal understanding and knowledge to ensure relevance and impact.

The new Air pollution Interdisciplinary Research (AIR) Network will bring together residents of informal settlements (e.g. Mukuru, Korogocho etc.) in Nairobi (Kenya), community organisations and UK and African researchers in a workshop, monthly meetings and mini-projects to gain a deep understanding of i) air pollution issues faced by residents of these settlements and ii) the causes of these issues. Many of the network members have worked with residents of African informal settlements before, but not in the interdisciplinary manner proposed for this network. We will use a variety of methods drawn from the different disciplines we represent, including theatre, street games and participatory workshops, and will use the understanding gained through these to begin to develop intervention options with local residents that can improve the health and wellbeing of local community members. By the end of the project we will be able to apply for funding to trial and implement intervention options and conduct larger scale studies across Sub-Saharan Africa.

Our partners and contacts in the settlements will publicise the project to the residents but also policymakers, stakeholders and researchers using channels such as local radio, newspapers, twitter, theatre and street games and art. We will also communicate about the project more widely through a dedicated project website (incorporating a blog, video-diaries, ideas for games and other resources), project team members' social media accounts and to academic audiences through conferences and papers. Like all our activities, these communication outputs will be co-designed with local residents, and where appropriate translated into the key local languages.

Planned Impact

Ultimately, our interdisciplinary research partnership of African and European researchers and community members will develop innovative, participatory solutions to abate air pollution and its effect on human health and wellbeing in low-resource settings in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). In the short-term (within the Award), the non-academic beneficiaries will be the residents of Nairobi informal settlements, local policy makers (from the Kenya Air Quality Network (KAQN)), civil society organisations (CSOs) (Slum Dweller International and Muungano) and local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) (e.g. Kenya Alliance of Residents Associations) working to improve the health of residents of informal settlements by reducing the burden of air pollution related non-communicable diseases. We already have good links to these organisations through previous projects, the KAQN and the Kenyan partners on the project, these will be further developed within this partnership. In the longer term (after the Award), the "toolkit" of interdisciplinary methods and approaches that are developed and tested by the AIR network in Nairobi can be adapted for other low-resource contexts in SSA. This will be facilitated through the network's existing academic and non-academic links in SSA (e.g. the BREATHE project). Further, the network plans large-scale future proposals that will be co-designed with the communities themselves, therefore ensuring that the research delivers on health and wellbeing for the target communities in the longer term.
Informal settlement residents are at the core of the AIR network, and community representatives (community members and representatives of CSOs) will be involved at all stages of the network development. In particular, these community representatives will participate in the workshops and co-design mini-projects. Through the workshops we will create a forum for dialogue between local residents, civil society organisations, policy makers, local businesses (e.g. manufacturing industry, hospital, street vendors) and NGOs. This will give voice to low-resource local residents (who are generally excluded from the decision-making that impacts their local air quality), with the aim of creating a shared understanding of the health impacts of air pollution in Kenyan informal settlements. Participation of community members (and CSO representatives) in workshops and mini-projects will gain increased awareness and understanding of the health impacts of air pollution and build capacity around the problem. This knowledge can then be shared using their existing community social networks. While awareness alone may not lead to significant improvements in health, enabling discussion around air pollution in these communities is important for generating a large-scale shift in perceptions of the problem (leading to demand for widescale change). It may also contribute to increased social cohesion as individuals unite around a common health problem.
The ultimate aim of the AIR network is to reduce the burden of non-communicable diseases related to air pollution in informal settlement communities in Nairobi. Improved health will also lead to greater economic prosperity through increased capacity for undertaking paid work and pursuing education (fewer sick days,reduced need to care for sick dependents). One example of the way in which these health improvements will be achieved in the longer term is through the development of interventions that are thoroughly rooted in the local cultural context (including tangible and intangible heritage) through co-design with the local community themselves as well as policy makers and NGOs who can facilitate such interventions.
Policy makers and NGOs will benefit from understanding community needs and aspirations through participation in the workshops and will increase their knowledge of the health impacts of air pollution and methods to tackle the problem from working alongside our interdisciplinary team.

Publications

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Title Forum theatre peformance at Ruben Centre 
Description A piece of forum theatre, developed with Mukuru residents and the research team to explore the issue of and solutions to air pollution. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact The performance was conducted in front of around 50 community members, including school children, local policy makers and officials. At this stage, there are no notable impacts but future performances of similar pieces will be performed in September to a larger audience, exploring potential solutions to air pollution that community members can enact themselves, which could lead to reductions in exposure to air pollution. 
 
Description This project started in October 2017, and we had our face-to-face workshop in Mukuru, an informal settlement (slum) in Nairobi in January 2018. This workshop was attended by staff from all our organisations, plus 20 community participants, residents of Mukuru. These community participants included a school teacher, community health workers, youth engagement workers, visual artists and musicians. We spent four days discussing people's perceptions of air pollution in the settlement, the effects of air pollution on health, potential sources of air pollution, and together developed a piece of forum theatre about one person's experience of air pollution health effects. This was performed in front of an audience of around 50 school children, local government representatives and community members, some of whom took the role of protagonists in the play to explore potential solutions to the issue. This opened up dialogue between these groups, which we hope will continue throughout the project and beyond, although it is early days. The involvement of community members on these mini-projects from their inception means that the chances of local societal impact are high. We have no findings as yet, but our excellent links with local policy makers (including village chief, ward administrators, local and national health workers, and other research teams (via the Kenya Air Quality Network) mean that when outputs and findings arise from our activities (via 4 mini-projects), these will be communicated to these audiences, aiming to impact their future working practices with community participants. The challenges we are facing are around how to maintain momentum and enthusiasm amongst our community participants when most of the research team are not based in Nairobi. Our partner Muungano are going to meet regularly with community participants between now and May, and we are also communicating with community participants from the UK and other parts of Nairobi via WhatsApp, as this is commonly used in the settlement. After May, our mini-project activities will begin, so momentum will build again, as we deliver training events for community participants on research skills such as participatory mapping, PhotoVoice, eliciting stories from people, and then after as we all analyse and present the findings from these activities to others in the community and prepare to present the work to the Kenya Air Quality network.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Education,Environment
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services

 
Description WMO report - AIR network mentioned
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Citation in systematic reviews
URL http://www.wmo.int/pages/prog/arep/gaw/documents/Draft_low_cost_sensors.pdf
 
Description Press releases announcing project launch 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Press releases announcing the grant issued by the University of Portsmouth and University of York were picked up by Ghana Business News, African Journal of Respiratory Medicine, EurekAlert!, Modern Ghana, Shaping Portsmouth, News Medical Life Sciences, News Ghana, HBTV Ghana, amongt other news outlets. A further press release issued on Megan Wainwright (freelance on project) linked in profile had 8 views.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Twitter about project 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Sarah West (now PI)'s twitter reach the week of the meeting was 15.2k impressions, with a single tweet about planning activities recieving 1439 impressions. We are using the hashtag Airnetwork, which in one week in March received around 3000 impressions (from any accounts). Engagement with the hashtag from just Sarah West's account was 314 from December to March.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://twitter.com/search?q=%23airnetwork&src=typd
 
Description Website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Our website (airnetworkafrica.com) has had about 300 views, about half of these from the UK, another third from Kenya. The purpose of the website is to raise awareness about the project, provide a mechanism for people to contact the project, and communicate about our findings. A Kenyan student approached us about the project via our website.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://airnetworkafrica.com