By Adella Mbabazi
Margret Nuwagaba, a-32-year-old a resident of Nyamityobora in Mbarara district is 5 months pregnant, and serves meals in an auto workshop.
Being an auto workshop means you will find all types of cars, of all ages and in various mechanical conditions – including those that need repairs and those that should never get back on the road.
As the mechanics repair the cars, Nuwagaba inhales the fumes from the cars’ exhaust pipes with limited regard this has on her health and that of her unborn baby.
Linda Kyomugisha lives in Ruti, in Mbarara municipality with her four children. Their home is adjacent to a lorry park where trucks make stop overs for a break. The compound in which Kyomugisha’s children play is often smoggy from the exhaust fumes let of by these vehicles, and yet her children need a life in the outdoors.
Health Risks to pregnant women
Both Nuwagaba and Kyomugisha’s children’s exposure to these fumes has adverse effects to their health. For Nuwagaba, incidents of high blood pressure during pregnancy and risk of getting an autistic baby are high while Kyomugisha’s children risk getting lung infections says Dr Justus Ampaire of St Augustine Community Hospital in Mbarara.
“Living near a busy road may double the risk of lung infections. Exposure to certain air pollutants especially those contained in fuels while in the womb or during the first year of life has been found to cause a dramatic increase in the chance of getting disorders. Children from homes with the highest traffic pollution levels or exposure to these fumes are three times more at risk.” Dr. Agaba adds.
He continues to say that most of these fumes have an effect on the human body and unborn child.
These exhaust fumes go through the brain placenta barrier and into the unborn child’s feeding system. The brain placenta barrier is a filter of sorts that protects the unborn baby from external toxins.
“When these toxins pass through the barrier they lead to intrauterine fetal death – children dying in their mother’s wombs, while the biggest effect is low birth weight – giving birth to children below the normal birth weight of 2.5kgs,” says Dr Agaba
If the exposure is substantial for a pregnant woman the results could be birth defects and diseases like epilepsy and stunted growth among others.
“When a pregnant woman has high blood pressure, and then consumes such fumes, the risk is 5 times. That means she is going to develop Pre-Eclampsia, a condition in which one or more convulsions occur in a pregnant woman, often followed by coma and posing a threat to the health of mother and her unborn baby.
Exposure to air pollutants throughout the first two trimesters of pregnancy increases women’s risk of developing one of these conditions,” Dr Jaziira Nampyia with Kagongi Health Centre 3
The local person
Dr Agaba continues to say that these exhaust fumes will not affect you today or tomorrow but will change over time. In future you will find it causes mutation, a change in genes.
“These fumes affect you when you give birth, the effect you give to your child and then your child adds on your effect by consuming more fumes, and then there is a big problem,” he adds.
Jaconeous Musingwire, an Environmental expert with NEMA adds that some of these fumes people consume them in food especially where the factories are and most of them end up in water, eating them in food, smelling them on the road and drinking them in water especially the water which is not well purified and neutralized.
“Some of these chemicals can end up in food chain from the garden and some of these particles end in the food that is already cooked especially those staying near the roads,”
Musingwire continues to say that indirectly or directly these fumes affect the Ozone layer. The Ozone layer has an effect on the human body. When these fumes are in the air the people breathe some of them and affecting the environment at large.
The situation in Uganda
The problem of fumes is actually becoming bigger by the day. Air pollution in Uganda is caused by high traffic on the road and old cars in use.
Uganda is using a lot of old vehicles; most of these vehicles bought are re-conditioned releasing much more toxic fumes than those which are brand new. Many vehicles are being purchased every day and industries are coming up. When industries come up, Uganda does not look at how it is going to affect people’s health and how they are going to dump their fumes.
This story was written under the aegis of the CSE Media Fellowships Programme.
Exposure to traffic-related air pollution a high risk for pregnant women