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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

"Studies indicate disability, poverty and inaccessibility to healthcare are intricately linked " - expert opinion by Dr Magteld Smith
2014-12-03

Dr Magteld Smith

Programmes worldwide attempt to improve the lives of people with disabilities, but recent studies indicated that disability and poverty, as well as disability and the inaccessibility of health care, continues to go hand in hand.

In South Africa, and even in developed countries, research shows that people with disabilities achieve lower levels of education with higher unemployment rates, live in extreme poverty and have low living standards.

“To have a disability can therefore become a huge financial burden on either the disabled person, the family or caregivers,” says Dr Magteld Smith from the Department of Otorhinolaryngology.

She devotes her research to the medical-social model of the global organisation, the International Classification of Functioning, Disabilities and Health, focusing on all areas of deafness.

Furthermore, Dr Smith says it is more difficult or more expensive for people with disabilities to obtain insurance, because of the risks associated with disability.

Dr Smith also emphasises the inaccessibility and even unavailability of medical services or health care for people with disabilities.

“Services such as psychiatry or social services are often not accessible. When such services are available, it is not affordable for most people with disabilities.”

Dr Smith uses the example of a person who was born deaf:

“Doctors have limited knowledge of the different types of hearing impairments or how to read and interpret an audiogram. Very little understanding also exists for the impact of deafness on the person’s daily life.”

Dr Smith, who is deaf herself, describes the emotional state of mind of people with disabilities as a daily process of adjustment and self-evaluation.

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