, Volume 14, Issue 1, pp 7–19 | Cite as

Biomass Cooking Fuels and Health Outcomes for Women in Malawi

  • Ipsita Das
  • Pamela JaggerEmail author
  • Karin Yeatts
Original Contribution


In sub-Saharan Africa, biomass fuels account for approximately 90% of household energy consumption. Limited evidence exists on the association between different biomass fuels and health outcomes. We report results from a cross-sectional sample of 655 households in Malawi. We calculated odds ratios between hypothesized determinants of household air pollution (HAP) exposure (fuel, stove type, and cooking location) and five categories of health outcomes (cardiopulmonary, respiratory, neurologic, eye health, and burns). Reliance on high- or low-quality firewood or crop residue (vs. charcoal) was associated with significantly higher odds of shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, chest pains, night phlegm, forgetfulness, dizziness, and dry irritated eyes. Use of high-quality firewood was associated with significantly lower odds of persistent phlegm. Cooks in rural areas (vs. urban areas) had significantly higher odds of experiencing shortness of breath, persistent cough, and phlegm, but significantly lower odds of phlegm, forgetfulness, and burns. With deforestation and population pressures increasing reliance on low-quality biomass fuels, prevalence of HAP-related cardiopulmonary and neurologic symptoms will likely increase among cooks. Short- to medium-term strategies are needed to secure access to high-quality biomass fuels given limited potential for scalable transitions to modern energy.


biomass fuels cookstoves deforestation energy household air pollution Malawi 



This research was funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (K01HD073329), the Fogarty International Center, and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (R25TW009340). We are grateful to the Carolina Population Center (P2CHD050924) at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for general support. Simon Chimwanza, Esther Giezendanner, and Laura Hamrick provided valuable inputs to this research. The opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the sponsoring agency.

Compliance with ethical standard

Conflict of interest

None declared.


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Copyright information

© International Association for Ecology and Health 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Public PolicyUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH)Chapel HillUSA
  2. 2.Curriculum for the Environment and EcologyUNC-CHChapel HillUSA
  3. 3.Carolina Population CenterUNC-CHChapel HillUSA
  4. 4.Department of Epidemiology, Gillings School of Global Public HealthUNC-CHChapel HillUSA

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