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04 June 2019 | Story Valentino Ndaba | Photo Charl Devenish
Prof Cathryn Tonne
Air pollution not only costs lives, it costs money too. Pictured is Prof Cathryn Tonne presenting a guest lecture on air pollution at the Bloemfontein Campus.

Health effects associated with ambient air pollution (AAP) have been well documented. Subsequently, the relationship between pollution and financial outcomes have also become a focus for case studies globally. An Environmental Research journal article revealed that “low and middle-income countries are disproportionately affected by the global burden of adverse health effects caused by AAP”. 

A high price to pay

In 2012, high concentrations of air pollution caused 7.4% of all deaths, costing South Africa up to 6% of its Gross Domestic Product. According to the recent International Growth Centre study conducted by senior University of Cape Town researchers, this is a direct consequence of the country’s heavy dependence of fossil fuels, a source of health-damaging air pollution and greenhouse pollutants.

Stunted human and economic growth

These South African statistics are attested to by Prof Cathryn Tonne who recently presented a guest lecture on air pollution which was hosted by the University of the Free State (UFS) Business School.

“Air pollution can affect economic development through several pathways, and health is an important one. Air pollution is linked to shorter life expectancy, chronic disease, asthma exacerbation and many other health outcomes that result in absenteeism from work and school. These have large direct costs to the health system.” 

Prof Tonne says that air pollution exposure in children is linked to reduced cognitive development, with important impacts on human capital. As a result, children are not reaching their full potential in terms of neurodevelopment, which has an effect on their income prospects and the economy as a whole. 

Resolving a looming disaster

Technology may be employed to radically clean the air. Cities need to lead in the reduction of air pollution by promoting renewable energy, using active transport such as walking or cycling, and investing in infrastructure to make this safe and attractive. 

With researchers playing a major role in strengthening the case for aggressive air pollution control, the government needs to implement policies in order to control sources of air pollution. This global health and economic issue also requires individuals and communities to play their part to improve air quality.

News Archive

Cochlear implant changes Magteld's world
2009-11-06

The microphone is ready for Magteld Smith’s (second from the left) first radio interview after the cochlear implant was switched on by Mr Henk Wolmarans (right) of MedEl. With them are, from the left: Ms Vicki Fourie, Deaf Miss SA, Ms Eunika Smith from the SABC and Prof. Jonathan Jansen.
Photo: Leatitia Pienaar


Magteld Smith gave her first steps towards the world of the hearing when her cochlear implant was switched on in the Universitas Hospital this week.

A whole team was there to share her joy and disbelief and amazement the moment she could hear noises, voices and conversations. Among them were the Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Free State (UFS), Prof. Jonathan Jansen, and the acting dean of the Faculty of Heath Sciences at the UFS, Prof. Gert van Zyl.

“I can hear my own voice! I haven’t heard it for a long time. My wish is that every deaf child can get something like this,” she said while prodding Prof. Jansen to speak so that she can hear his voice.

Magteld is working at the university's Centre for Health Systems Research and Development and was deaf since birth. She lost her last bit of hearing due to meningitis last year. Her hearing aids could then not assist her to communicate and a cochlear implant was the only option.

A donation by the Austrian company MedEl made the implant possible. Prof. André Claassen, Head of the Department of Otorhinolaryngology at the UFS, says MedEl was also instrumental in the establishment of the implant programme at the Universitas Hospital and sponsored the first five implants at a total cost of R1 million.

Prof. Claassen says 27 implants have already been done here, but it came to an abrupt halt due to a lack of funds. Strong hearing aids are expensive and cochlear implants are even more expensive at R200 000 each. People with hearing disabilities must be identified at an early age as the brain’s ability to learn sound and voice diminishes after the age of three.
 

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