Clean cookstoves protect women, their families, and the environment

September 4, 2018 by Amy Roll


Do you ever stop to think about how amazing an oven is? You turn a switch and suddenly you can heat up a machine to 350 degrees, pop some food in, and eat it 30 minutes later. I love to cook—it helps me relax after a long day of work, and I enjoy the challenge of trying out a new recipe. What I never have to think about when using this miracle machine is inhaling dangerous amounts of pollution or burning myself.

For nearly three billion people, primarily in resource-poor settings, cooking is a dangerous and time-consuming daily chore. Wood, dung, and charcoal are solid fuels that provide cheap energy to cook over open fires. However, this cheap energy comes at a great cost to people’s health and the environment. Household air pollution from solid fuels is one of the greatest environmental health risks that disproportionately affects women, the members of society who are often responsible for cooking and caretaking. The time spent gathering fuel wood and cooking results in economic costs as women are not able to invest in income-generating activities, and children may be pulled away from school work. Furthermore, children exposed to solid fuels are at risk of respiratory infection, low birth weight, stunting, anemia, and burns. Dependency on solid fuels contributes to deforestation and dangerous levels of indoor and outdoor air pollution.

The Bridge Collaborative is a partnership across health, environment, and development sectors spearheaded by four founding organizations: The Nature Conservancy, PATH, the International Food Policy Research Institute, and Duke University. I am working with PATH and the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves to identify interventions using improved cookstoves that will have a positive impact on health, environment, and development outcomes. Our goal is to engage researchers, practitioners, and policymakers across sectors to come up with tangible policies and programs that promote the use of clean fuels and improved cookstoves.

PATH is a leader in global health innovation—When I think of PATH, I think of everything from technologies and tools to vaccines and diagnostics that the organization has developed to make health care more accessible and affordable in resource-poor settings. Thus, I was excited to see PATH at the forefront of thinking about integrating health, conservation, and development and am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to work with the Nutrition Innovation team, which leads the Bridge Collaborative activities.

Before this fellowship and my MPH at the University of Washington, I lived in Uganda and worked at Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH)—a local nonprofit that believes that health and conservation are interconnected. CTPH programs focus primarily on improving health and sanitation to reduce zoonotic disease transmission between communities and animals living around Uganda’s protected areas. While I was at CTPH, I oversaw the development of their cookstove program. In the communities we worked with, many people traveled into protected areas to collect fuelwood to cook over the traditional three-stone fires. CTPH’s goal was to introduce an improved biomass cookstove program that would improve health and lower pressure on the forests by burning biomass more efficiently. Most importantly, I met women who believed these new stoves would improve their family’s health and help them save time that they could spend working on other projects.

Although I am no longer in Uganda, I can’t forget how such a seemingly small thing like a new stove can transform people’s lives. This has inspired me during my fellowship with PATH. I reviewed more than 70 studies and reports, analyzed the information, and created a literature review that informed a technical working group meeting, comprised of cookstove, health, environment, and development experts. My goal is for the information I collected to help inform experts as they make research, program, and policy recommendations around improved cookstoves and clean fuels.

I’m a believer in an interdisciplinary and multi-sectoral future of global health; we can no longer think about health as separate from the environment and development sectors. The Hilton Prize Coalition Fellows Program has given me the opportunity to support this growing movement spearheaded by the Bridge Collaborative. I am excited for my continued professional growth at the intersection of health and the environment.

Tonight, when I fire up my stove, I’ll be thinking of the women for whom cooking is one of the most dangerous and insidiously life-threatening activities they undertake. I hope that in a small part, my work this past spring and summer can help make cooking safer for women, their families, and the environment.

Amy Roll is a current Hilton Prize Coalition fellow with PATH. Amy is pursuing her Masters of Public Health (MPH) in Global Health from the University of Washington and graduated with a BA in French and International Affairs from the University of Puget Sound.

Original post can be viewed on the Hilton Prize Coalition Blog.