‘Air pollution causes more deaths in Gambia than tobacco’

Jun 21, 2024, 11:25 AM | Article By: Cherno Omar Bobb

Dr Sunkaru Touray, co-founder of Permian Health Lung Institute, says air pollution causes more deaths in The Gambia than tobacco, although he is still working on proving the theory.

Dr Touray made the remarks yesterday, Thursday, during a half-day meet-and-greet program for “Clean Air Force” Volunteers on Air Quality in The Gambia organised by Permian Lung Institute and held at GAMCOTRAP Conference Hall.

The lungs specialist also stated that when someone smokes it is one person that is affected but when the air is polluted it is everybody that is affected, pointing out that “the Gambian population that is exposed to air pollution is much higher” than the population that smokes.

“The lung diseases I see in women are the same types that I see in smoking men and not many women smoke in The Gambia,” he said. “This is how I made the connection between air pollution and smoking. We are all exposed to air pollutants and if air pollutants are not prioritised or controlled, they will cause a lot of diseases.”

WHO reported that out of 100 15-year-old Gambian females, 11 of them will die before they are 50 years old. For males, it was reported that out of 100 15-year-olds, 12 of them will die before they are 50.

Dr Touray, who is also a pulmonologist and critical care physician, said the dire health situation in people may be caused by exposures that happened when they were young.

Over the years, the doctor, who is based in United States of America, has seen a lot of patients in The Gambia who are suffering from diseases not explained and according to him, it has got him thinking about air pollution.

In 2023, Dr Touray’s Institute launched the Clean Air Initiative which seeks to raise public awareness about the importance of air pollution as a risk factor for human health as well as address air pollution data gaps in the country.

It has been reported that air pollution kills an estimated 7 million people globally each year.

The doctor calls for the need to ensure that The Gambia has infrastructure to be able to measure the quality of air in the country continuously and that information is available to individuals and agencies that need it.

Meanwhile, there has been a huge success since last year when the country went from not having any publicly available sensors to when the Permian Health Lung Institute installed one sensor in every region in the country.

Dr Touray said they would try to double that number in the coming year. He highlighted that improving air quality requires the efforts of all stakeholders, noting that the government needs to consider putting in legislation to reduce fossil fuel emission because most of the air pollutants are from vehicle emissions, as some vehicles are not road worthy.

He also called for the need to be intentional about reforestation because trees protect people from the dust. “The population needs to be more environmentally aware by not cutting down trees. Real estate companies also need to be intentional about how they build urban spaces in the country,” he said.

He further calls for collaboration with members of the private sector to raise awareness about the importance of public health measures to ensure “we all live healthier lives and develop as a country”.