WHO Trains Health Workers in Ghana on Air Pollution and Health

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  • The World Health Organization (WHO) is piloting a program to train health professionals as advocates for clean air policies and programs with the ultimate aim to protect and promote people’s health and wellbeing.
  • Health workers from all corners of Ghana met in Kumasi, Ashanti Region and provided input into the program design as the curriculum is scaled up.
  • This successful pilot is expected to expand into a global program in 2023.

Health professionals shape the dialog on air pollution and health topics both through direct engagement within their communities and peer colleagues and also while influencing public policy agendas on personal and population-level interventions. WHO is piloting a program to train health workers to advocate for clean air measures in the communities where they work. The project is led by the Air Quality and Health Unit within the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health. The global training curriculum is designed to be tailored at the regional and country level.

Pilot Workshop in Ghana

In Kumasi, Ghana, in June 2022, a group of almost fifty health professionals gathered to test the program. They have been exposed to a set of training modules and multiple interactive sessions using a train-the-trainer approach which allowed them to gain the skills and knowledge to act as trainers with peer colleagues in the health sectors and the communities they serve. The material included introductory modules about air pollution and health as well as specific modules for clinicians addressing cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and the health effects of air pollution on children and pregnant women.

Clean Air as a human right

In August 2022, the United Nations General Assembly passed a historic resolution declaring that everyone on the planet has a right to a healthy environment, including clean air, water, and a stable climate. “We have made air – the thing that keeps us alive – the number one threat to our health,” said Martina Otto, Head of Secretariat, Climate and Clean Air Coalition. “By formalizing our right to clean air, this resolution is an important step towards protecting both people and planet.” The training toolkit being developed by WHO is designed to reach those planetary health goals.

99% of  people worldwide breathe air that exceeds WHO global air quality guidelines. Regions and countries differ widely in their burden of air pollution, Low-and-Middle Income Countries being the ones whose population is most affected by this threat. In Ghana, this a serious concern for public health. Ghana’s annual ambient mean concentration of PM2.5 (35 ug/m3) largely exceeds WHO global air quality guidelines for particulate matter (PM). Transport, industry, waste burning as well as households’ heavy reliance on unclean fuels and technologies for cooking significantly contribute to air pollution exposure and important health outcomes in the population.

Health systems pay the price of illnesses that result from air pollution exposure, therefore the health sector has a vested interest in improving air quality. Tools provided by WHO, such as this training program can empower local health workers, in their own communities, in advocating for those policy changes while advising patients and individuals on exposure reduction strategies.

Author: Bryan Groenendaal

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