Revealing the Invisible: Permian Health’s Air Quality Crusade in Gambia

In the slender West African nation of Gambia, Dr. Sunkaru Touray of Permian Health Lung Institute is leading an unprecedented initiative to illuminate the invisible dangers of air pollution through the strategic deployment of low-cost air quality monitors.

A vision born from necessity

Dr. Touray, a pulmonologist and critical care physician originally from Kartong, The Gambia, was profoundly affected by the respiratory issues he encountered while practicing in New Mexico. These issues, often linked to hydrocarbon exposure and environmental pollutants, spurred him to address similar problems in Gambia, where air quality data is scarce. "There's a significant data gap in Africa when it comes to understanding our air," Dr. Touray noted.

Recognizing the parallels between New Mexico and Gambia, Dr. Touray envisioned the Permian Health Clean Air Initiative. This initiative aims not only to collect data but to empower Gambians with knowledge, enabling them to make informed decisions about their health and advocate for cleaner air.

“There’s a significant data gap in Africa when it comes to understanding our air.”

–Dr. Sunkaru Touray, Founder, Permian Health

The journey of Permian Health

Permian Health's mission is clear: to democratize access to air quality data in Gambia by installing low-cost air quality monitors throughout the country. The team selected IQAir’s AirVisual outdoor monitors for this critical work. “These devices are proven to be reliable, user-friendly, and can operate on solar power,” Dr. Touray said. “They also have 4G LTE connectivity,” which make the monitors ideally suited for Gambia's diverse environments—from the bustling streets of Banjul to the rural countryside.

"The goal," Dr. Touray explained, "is not just to collect data but to empower our communities with knowledge so they can make informed decisions about their health and advocate for cleaner air."

Highlighting areas of concern: Brikama’s air quality

Brikama stands as a poignant example of the challenges faced across Gambia. Known for its bustling markets and as a hub for both commerce and community life, the town also grapples with air quality issues that pose risks to its residents. By placing monitors in strategic locations, including the busy highway through Brikama, Permian Health is mapping pollution levels and raising awareness among the local population about the air they breathe daily—while simultaneously acting as a testament to the potential of grassroots air monitoring networks in challenging regions.

Dr Touray said, "As we look to the future, the lessons learned from Brikama will inform our expansion strategies to other regions facing similar challenges. Our success in achieving nationwide coverage, with Brikama as a keystone in our network, exemplifies the scalable model of Permian Health Clean Air Initiative.”

“The goal is not to just collect the data but to empower our communities with knowledge so they can make informed decisions about their health.”

Pioneering work on the ground

To date, the Permian Health air quality network has grown to 14 sensors, achieving nationwide coverage with an air quality sensor in all regions of The Gambia—proof of the project's rapid scalability and success. The project has successfully installed air quality monitors in various locations, including urban areas and industrial sites. These monitors provide real-time data on pollutants like PM2.5, which pose the greatest threat to human health, offering invaluable insights into the air pollution across different regions of Gambia.

"We have sensors in the most densely populated areas,” Dr. Touray said. "Through the process of collecting PM 2.5 data in Gambia and identifying pollution hotspots, we educate the public about air quality and its impact on public health—and also communicate the importance of installing air quality sensors as a means to make a change."

This foundational work sets the stage for enhanced accuracy and credibility in air quality monitoring, as underscored by a pivotal development in the project's journey. “The recent addition of a reference-grade monitor donated by MetOne marks a significant leap in our capacity for precision and validation of the data collected by our existing sensor network,” Dr. Touray said.

Uniting minds and garnering accolades

To raise awareness about their work, Permian Health has created a promotional video which serves as a powerful tool to inform and engage the public about their project.

A key milestone for the project was the establishment of the first air quality conference in Gambia, bringing together stakeholders from the government, academia, and civil society to discuss the findings and implications of the collected data.

"This conference was a pivotal moment for us, marking the beginning of a national conversation on air quality," reflects Dr. Touray.

Dr. Touray emphasizes the importance of partnering with the Gambian government to leverage their data for national air quality standards and planning. "Working closely with governmental bodies is crucial for our success," Dr. Touray notes, highlighting his strong connections within the National Environment Agency, which have been supportive of their endeavors.

Additionally, the project's recent recognition by the Energy Policy Institute of the University of Chicago with an Air Quality Award highlights the global acknowledgment of their impactful work. This prestigious award will enable Permian Health to scale their network further.

Currently, there are 16 low-cost sensors deployed, and Gambia will, for the first time ever, have a reference monitor to assist in enhancing air quality monitoring and assessment.

Hopes for the Future

Thanks to their recent Air Quality Award, Permian Health will soon be acquiring an additional 10 sensors, bringing the total to 26 sensors across The Gambia.

Dr. Touray envisions a future where every Gambian has access to air quality information, enabling them to protect themselves and their families from air pollution. Furthermore, he hopes to leverage the data collected to advocate for stronger environmental policies and regulations in Gambia.

“We’re not just collecting data for the sake of it. We want to drive change.”

"We're not just collecting data for the sake of it. We want to drive change," says Dr. Touray. "Our ultimate goal is for Gambia to set national air quality standards, informed by the comprehensive data we've gathered."

The takeaway

Dr. Sunkaru Touray's work with Permian Health exemplifies innovative activism. The project not only addresses air quality data gaps but also empowers communities to tackle air pollution—an issue that transcends borders.

Dr. Touray's mission goes beyond monitoring; it's about transforming the fabric of public health through the lens of air quality.

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