Studies have shown the link between air pollution and its adverse effects on human health. The World Health Organization (WHO) described air pollution as “the world’s major environmental health risk”1. The WHO reported on the effects of air quality on human health and identified the relative contributions to mortality from different components of air pollution. The strongest correlations with health were found to be particulate matter (PM) followed by ozone (O3) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2). For gas phase pollutants, NO2 is identified as a crucial species that may affect quality of life and contribute to increase mortality rates2. NO2 and carbon monoxide (CO) are both respiratory sensitizers and can adversely impact those with existing cardiovascular or respiratory diseases.3 It is important to note that long-term exposure to NO2 affects lung functioning while CO reduces the body’s ability to transport oxygen and thereby affecting cognitive function at lower concentrations and being poisonous at higher concentrations4-5. While Nitric oxide (NO) may not be of a primary importance for direct impact on public health, it quickly converts to NO2 which through its influence on ground level O3 affects the oxidising ability of the troposphere leading to global warming. Particulate matter is a key indicator of urban air quality and widely used in setting air quality standards6.
In Ghana and many parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, public knowledge on air quality/pollution and its related health impacts is limited. Further to this, air quality data is poorly communicated and usually found only in governmental reports. This inhibits awareness creation, behavioural changes and stakeholder engagement on development of mitigation measures. Technological development and the application of machine learning can bridge these gaps in Sub-Saharan Africa. This may help in public sensitisation and awareness creation, engagement and behavioural changes. In this piece, a summary on the usefulness of one of such developments; Yakokoe is presented.
Yakokoe is a mobile application that is built mainly to engage, educate and empower citizens. With this simplified mobile application, the state of the air within your region is at your fingertips. Using the United States Air Quality Index (AQI), this app provide subscribers with information on the quality of the air in their region with its associated health risks. The AQI to simply put is an index for reporting daily air quality specifically on how clean or polluted the air is and what health effect is linked to such air quality levels. The table below provides guidance on the colour coding system used.
|51-100||Moderate||Yellow||Unusually sensitive individuals should consider limiting prolonged outdoor exertion|
|101-150||Unhealthy for sensitive group||Orange||Children, active adults and people with respiratory disease such as asthma should limit prolonged outdoor exertion|
|151-200||Unhealthy||Red||Children, active adults and people with respiratory disease such as asthma should avoid prolonged outdoor exertion; everyone should limit prolonged outdoor exertion|
|201-300||Very unhealthy||Purple||Children, active adults and people with respiratory disease such as asthma should avoid outdoor exertion; everyone should limit outdoor exertion|
|301-500||Hazardous||Maroon||Everyone should avoid all physical activities outdoors|
Table 1: AQI and interpretation7