Megan Benka-Coker, Gettysburg College – Evaluating Real-World Global Health Interventions

On Gettysburg College Week:  How people cook in their homes can have consequences.

Megan Benka-Coker, assistant professor of health sciences, examines one method with the potential to help cut down the risks in hard to reach areas.

Dr. Benka-Coker is an Assistant Professor in the Health Sciences Department at Gettysburg College. She is an environmental epidemiologist and global health researcher. Her research primarily focuses on household energy and cooking, evaluating cleaner-burning cookstove technologies and the potential to improve population-level health. She has worked with interdisciplinary teams in West and East Africa and Central America to try to understand the multi-faceted energy challenges facing communities.

Evaluating Real-World Global Health Interventions

Approximately 2.4 billion people, cook and heat their homes with biomass fuels, including firewood, charcoal, and animal dung. The smoke produced from the inefficient combustion of fuels results in household air pollution, and an estimated 3 million deaths every year. Access to clean fuels and technologies is an important step to improving livelihoods and reducing the health burden, but there are significant challenges in making the technologies available and affordable. Many research studies have explored cookstove fuel and technology interventions, studying the emissions, exposures, acceptability, affordability, and ultimate adoption of the technology. Although our field continues to learn about adoption, one piece that often remains unknown is what happens after the research is over. Do these cookstove interventions ultimately make a long-lasting difference in the lives of families?

In our current research, partners from the US, Netherlands, and Ghana have returned to the site of a large community-based cookstove intervention in Ghana completed 3 years earlier to ask: “Where are they now”? Our goal is to document and understand factors related sustained stove use among households that received cleaner burning charcoal stoves and liquid petroleum gas stoves. 

We have just completed data collection and revisited 70 households from the previous study. Each household completed 24-hour personal exposure monitoring, stove use monitoring, and an extensive survey about their sustained utilization of their intervention stove. We seek to understand whether households continued use of their clean fuels and technologies, reverted back to polluting sources, or adopted additional new technologies. We will look to investigate what factors drove their decisions and how their levels of exposure to household air pollution compare to the early intervention. Ultimately, we hope to inform future research and policy around the long-term impacts of cookstove projects and interventions.

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