Ghana’s air quality crisis: Asthma burden worsens as air quality further deteriorates

In the bustling streets of Accra, the daily spectacle of cars ensnared in traffic jams is a sight all too common. Yet, amid this urban hustle, a disquieting reality looms – a shroud of dense, noxious fumes billows from the exhaust pipes of countless vehicles.

“These harmful emissions infiltrate the lungs of millions, regardless of age, with lethal consequences that unfurl over time,” cautions the World Health Organization. The emissions comprise a sinister concoction of exhaust gases: carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxides (NOx), hydrocarbons, and insidious particulates.

For numerous residents, especially those with heightened sensitivities, this smog morphs from a mere irritant into a genuine peril, silently sowing the seeds of harm, with thousands paying the toll for every breath they draw.

Reuben Alexander Otu understands this painful truth all too well.

Reuben, much like countless Ghanaians, relies on public transport for his daily journeys. From Gbawe to Korle-Bu, Reuben embarks on two separate vehicles.

“Especially the trotros – public transport. The smoke from their exhaust is very bad,” laments Reuben.

The journey is anything but comfortable, and even his trusty nose mask is no match for the poisonous emissions spewing from carbon-fueled engines.

“That’s why I wear my nose mask constantly, in a bid to shield myself from the smoke and pungent odors. Yet, even then, it’s barely sufficient. I once had to implore a friend to roll up his window to stave off an assault from a passing vehicle. It was horrendous,” recounts Reuben.

Asthma casts a long shadow, a global concern with the World Health Organization recording 262 million cases and 455,000 deaths in 2019. In Ghana, asthma’s impact on non-communicable diseases (NCDs) is stark. Since 2020, the country has witnessed 2,772,157 NCD cases, with asthma ranking third, trailing only hypertension and diabetes mellitus, responsible for 239,036 cases.

The numbers grow increasingly alarming with 84,700 new asthma cases in 2021, followed by 79,355 in 2022. More distressing still, from January to June 2023 alone, 36,780 fresh asthma cases have surfaced.

For those grappling with asthma, daily medication is a solemn ritual, and these remedies do not come cheap.

“I must resort to my inhaler daily. Back when the university didn’t cover the costs, it was a heavy burden on my finances. But there was no alternative; I had to purchase it, and the strain on my wallet was palpable,” confides Reuben.

For Reuben, there is a deep-seated frustration that resonates, echoing the sentiments of many – nobody seems to care, not even the policymakers. This time, he demands action to combat the deteriorating air quality.

“We voice these concerns because we implore the government to intervene. The air quality worsens with each passing day,” Reuben passionately states.

The issue of air pollution is further compounded by the scarcity of monitoring infrastructure in many regions. Even with the limited monitoring stations strewn across the nation, the data paints a bleak portrait of declining air quality. For those acutely sensitive to these fluctuations, the air has become an unwelcome adversary rather than a source of life.


“This story was a collaboration with New Narratives. Funding was provided by the Clean Air Fund.”