An advocacy group on lung health plans to work with health authorities in 12 countries from 2010 to reduce indoor fuel burning, which causes respiratory diseases and lung cancer and kills 2 million people a year.

More than 3 billion people, or half of the world's population, still use biomass fuels like wood, dung and coal for cooking and heating in poorly ventilated homes and this results in severe indoor air pollution.

Indoor air pollution caused more than 1.6 million deaths worldwide in 2000, according to the World Health Organization, 90 percent of them occurring poor communities in Africa, Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific.

The International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, a non-profit institute founded in 1920, estimates the number of deaths has risen to 2 million per year.

While families in more advanced nations have long switched to using cleaner fuels, more than 70 percent of households in China, India and African countries continue to burn biomass in open stoves.

Women are usually the victims because they are the ones cooking at home, as well as young children, who are often carried on the backs of their mothers as they go about their chores.

The International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease will start a pilot project next year in 12 countries to educate families on ways to make cooking and heating safer.

The union, which collaborates with health agencies in 127 countries, will target especially people who bring their children into clinics for respiratory illnesses, said Professor Donald Enarson, a lung disease expert and senior adviser to the union.


People are open to messages when they have an event, such as when their children get sick with pneumonia. That is an important event that people pay attention to, Enarson said.

There's a whole series of these practical steps that ordinary poor people can do and if they understand what needs to be done and why, Enarson told Reuters on the sidelines of a conference on lung health in Cancun, Mexico.

Some of the measures include cooking outdoors or using a stove, that is cheap and easy to make.

When you burn biomass on the ground, it doesn't burn as efficiently and you are using a lot more fuel and it creates a lot more smoke. But if you have a fire in a metal or clay container, they are much more efficient because you burn fuel on a rack and it works better, Enarson said.

Indoor air pollution is linked to lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and acute lower respiratory infections, such as pneumonia.

The smoke is made up of tiny particles and when you breath, those particles get deposited in your lungs. Together with those particles are chemicals, and it is these particles and chemicals that together cause damage to the lungs, to the airways and in the lung tissues, Enarson said.

It usually has to do with very tiny particles, less than five microns in diameter. The bigger particles get stuck in the nose, but the really small ones bypass the nose and go right down to your lungs and stay there, he said.

A micron is one millionth of a meter.

They have chemicals with them and they cause the lungs to get inflamed. The chemicals cause emphysema, which is eating holes in the lungs, or they can stimulate the cells and derange them, make them sick, and they turn into cancer, Enarson said.

The chemicals and irritation make a person more susceptible to infections. If a child is exposed to bacteria and these particles, the bacteria can enter the lungs and cause pneumonia, this is one of the causes of childhood pneumonia, he said.