Vented Stoves Improve Women's Health in Mexico

Women in Central Mexico who used a vented stove instead of the traditional indoor open fire, experienced improved respiratory health on par with a pack-a-day smoker kicking the habit, according to a recent study.

The study, which analyzed the first year of data in an ongoing project examining the impact of the use of vented stoves over traditional indoor open fires, was reported in the Oct. 1 issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, published by the American Thoracic Society.

An estimated 2 billion people around the world rely on biomass fuel for cooking, typically over unvented indoor fires. These indoor fires generate high levels of pollutants such as carbon monoxide, particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide.

The "Patsari" stove was designed to address this problem and has been shown in previous research to reduce indoor air pollution concentrations by an average of 70 percent. However, until now, no research has directly evaluated the health effects on the women who use them.

"We wanted to know whether the Patsari stove would make a measurable difference in the health of people who were actually using it," said Horacio Riojas-Rodríguez, of the Instituto Nacional de Salud Pública, and researcher on the study.

To do so, Riojas and colleagues followed women in more than 500 households from Central Mexico, who had been randomized to receive the new Patsari stove at the beginning of the study, or upon its conclusion. Each participant answered a symptom questionnaire at the outset of the study and every month thereafter for 10 months. They also underwent an average of four spirometric tests during the study.

Fewer than one-third of women assigned to receive the Patsari stove reported "mainly" using it, and another 20 percent reported that they used it in conjunction with the open fire, and fully half reported mainly using the traditional open wood fire, despite having been assigned to the intervention group.

While the intention-to-treat analysis did not demonstrate significant differences between the control and intervention groups, when the researchers analyzed those who used the Patsari stove versus those who did not, they found strong evidence that use of the Patsari stoves was associated with marked improvements in respiratory health.

Women using the Patsari stove had half the decline in a key measure of lung function—forced expiratory volume in one second, or FEV1—than women using open wood fires. Among those who used the Patsari stove, the loss was 31 ml over a year, versus the 62 ml over a year for the open fire users.

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