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The Ballad of Ella Kissi-Debrah

Updated: Jan 26, 2022

A nine-year-old London girl, who became the world's first person to have air pollution listed as her cause of death, now has a song commemorating her short life.

Ella Kissi-Debrah © Ella Roberta Family Foundation

Ella Roberta Kissi-Debrah died in 2013, from a severe and rare form of asthma. Her battle to live inspired her mother, Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, to develop the Ella Robert Family Foundation and campaign to clean up London’s air.

Podsongs the band - Maurizio Sarnicola, Jack Stafford and Massimino Voza © Podsongs

Ella’s story inspired English singer-songwriter Jack Stafford to produce the song: The Ballad of Ella Kissi-Debrah.

“I heard about Ella's story while researching for an interview with Maria Neira from the World Health Organization on Podsongs - a podcast where every guest inspires a song for good,” says Jack. “It was so powerful that he was inspired to create this moving piece about her life and legacy: watch the video here.

New website

The song coincides with the launch of - a website created by Rosamund and two other mothers: Bhavreen Kandhari in India and Patrice Tomcik in the US, to campaign for clean air for children across the world.

Bhavreen’s twin teenaged daughters were born prematurely and already have the lungs of a smoker. Patrice’s three-year-old son is a leukaemia survivor. This means that he is at greater risk from toxins, including pollution from fracking in the Marcellus shale basin where they live in Pennsylvania.

“Ultimately, the mothers want to raise public awareness, and public pressure on governments around the world to commit to cleaner air by meeting the World Health Organization’s air quality guidelines.”

Listen on Spotify

As of 2016, 93% of children worldwide lived in areas where air quality exceeds the WHO’s existing guidelines, and 600,000 per year died from its effects, the WHO reported in 2018. Impacts on children include premature birth, low birthweight, harm to neurodevelopment and cognitive ability, asthma, childhood cancer and chronic cardiovascular disease.

“Gathering testimonies on marks a first step towards raising awareness about the stories behind the science - so that parents, and healthcare professionals, can recognise the potential impacts of air pollution in the health problems they’re dealing with.”

Read more about their stories here.


Read more from families here

Kamila Kadzidlowska, Poland

On the outskirts of Warsaw, Kamila’s first son developed a recurring upper respiratory tract infection in his first month of life. Her second son developed a severe skin allergy within hours of birth, then lost weight, struggled to digest and sleep and was diagnosed with a life-threatening and incurable condition. Then it all subsided, when a doctor suggested Kamila was inadvertently passing on her own reaction to air pollution, a chronic respiratory infection, through breast milk.

Amuche Nnabueze, Nigeria

In the village of Ukehe, Amuche and her seven siblings grew up taking asthma medication and using inhalers because of the air pollution from burning firewood for cooking. Now working in a university medical centre, Amuche has witnessed traumatic asthma attacks in young people, linked to the pollution from the burning of waste in the streets, biomass fuel in vehicles, landfill gases and cooking stoves. As a member of Parents for Future Nigeria, she is working to at least provide women with cleaner cooking stoves and reduce exposure for them and their kids.

Trisha DelloIacono, US

In 2012, a plume of a toxic and carcinogenic chemical - vinyl chloride - drifted through Trisha’s neighbourhood in New Jersey. Her sons immediately felt watery eyes, burning throats and head pain, and she felt dizzy, tired and clumsy. Some 23,000 gallons of vinyl chloride had spilled from a derailed train nearby. Her now 11-year-old son still suffers a growing list of health effects such as uncontrollable nosebleeds and unexplained memory loss. She worries every day that he will next be diagnosed with cancer.

Anuja, India

Anuja was a month away from giving birth in 2006 when a doctor noticed that she had no amniotic fluid left and the baby was dry, and rushed her to get an emergency caesarean. Her son was born “powder dry”, low-weight and with jaundice. At eight months old he was put on a nebuliser in hospital, gasping for breath. He spent his first three birthdays with high fevers, nebulisers, allergies, chest congestions, vomit, itchy red eyes and endless crying. But his health improved dramatically when they moved from the financial hub of Gurgaon, outside Delhi, south to Chennai.

Michael Wanyama, Uganda

In Kampala, two of Michael’s three young sons are in and out of hospital with respiratory infections, caused by their heavy exposure to air pollution from traffic on their way to school and near home. He’s worried that this is harming their cognitive development. Understanding that the pollution is largely caused by the old, imported vehicles that make up 80-90% of Kampala’s traffic Michael has started an initiative to train mechanics to maintain safety and emission control systems in cars - supporting job-creation and raising public awareness about air quality.

Dr. Jasmine Pradissitto, UK

As a physicist and academic, Jasmine had written and spoken about climate change and the effects of pollution on the environment. But it became personal five years ago when her son, now 23, was hospitalised in Lewisham, London with a major asthma attack and was put on a nebuliser. The experience inspired Jasmine, also an artist, to create sculptures out of a ceramic that absorbs NOx pollution. Her work is now on display in Euston, Camden and near the busy South Circular Road.

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