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Air Pollution is the highest health risk for newborns in India: Study


NEW DELHI: A comprehensive analysis  of  air  pollution’s  global  impact  on  newborns  finds  that outdoor  and household  particulate  matter  pollution  contributed  to the  deaths  of  more than 116,000 Indian infants in  their  first month of  life  in 2019,  according  to a  new  global  study, State of Global Air 2020 (SoGA).  

More than half of these deaths were associated with outdoor  PM 2.5 and others were linked to use of solid fuels such as charcoal, wood, and animal dung for cooking.

Long-term  exposure  to outdoor  and  household  air  pollution  contributed to  over  1.67 million annual  deaths from  stroke, heart  attack, diabetes, lung  cancer, chronic  lung  diseases, and  neonatal diseases, in India  in 2019.  

For  the  youngest infants, most deaths were related to complications from low birth weight  and preterm birth.  

The  report  highlights  the  ongoing  challenge  of  high outdoor  air  pollution — South Asian countries including India, Bangladesh, Pakistan  and Nepal  feature  among  the  top  ten  countries  with the highest  PM 2.5  exposures  in 2019;  all of these  countries  experienced increases  in  outdoor  PM2.5 levels  between  2010 and  2019. 

Use  of  solid fuels  for  cooking, however,  presents  a  pattern of  moderate  success. Since  2010, more than 50  million fewer people  have  been exposed  to household  air  pollution. The  Pradhan  Mantri Ujjwala  Yojana Household  LPG program  and  other  schemes  have helped  to  dramatically  expand access  to  clean  energy,  especially  for  rural households.

More  recently,  the  National  Clean Air Programme  has  spurred action  on major  air  pollution sources. 

 This report  comes  as  COVID-19 — a disease for  which  people with  heart  and  lung  disease are particularly at  risk of  infection and  death — has  claimed  more than  110,000  lives  in India. 

Although the  full  links  between air  pollution  and  COVID-19  are  not  yet  known, there  is  clear evidence  linking  air  pollution  and  increased  heart and  lung  disease  creating  a  growing  concern that  exposures  to high  levels  of  air  pollution, during  winter  months in South Asian countries  and East  Asia, could  exacerbate the effects of  COVID-19. 

“An  infant’s  health  is  critical  to  the future of  every  society,  and  this newest  evidence suggests  an  especially high  risk for  infants  born  in  South Asia  and sub-Saharan  Africa,” said  Dan  Greenbaum,  President  of  HEI. 

“Although  there  has  been slow  and steady reduction  in  household  reliance  on poor-quality fuels, the  air pollution from  these  fuels  continues  to be  a  key factor  in the  deaths  of  these  youngest  infants,” he added. 

Infants  in  the  first  month  of  life  are  already  at  a  vulnerable  stage. But  a  growing  body of scientific  evidence from  multiple  countries,  including  recent ICMR-supported  studies  in  India, indicates that  particulate  air pollution exposure  during  pregnancy is  linked  to low  birth weight  and pre-term  birth.

These  latter  conditions, both of  which are  associated with  serious  complications, already account for the vast majority of  deaths in the neonatal period  (455,000  in  2019).  

The  new  analysis  reported  in the  State  of  Global Air  this  year  estimates  that nearly  21 per cent of neonatal deaths from  all  causes  are  attributable  to ambient and household air  pollution. 

“Addressing impacts  of  air  pollution on  adverse  pregnancy outcomes  and newborn  health  is  really important  for low- and middle-income  countries, not  only because of the high prevalence  of low  birth weight, preterm  birth, and child  growth deficits but  because  it allows the design of strategic  interventions  that  can be  directed  at  these vulnerable  groups,”  said  Dr.  Kalpana Balakrishnan,  an  air pollution and health expert who was not involved with the study.   

The  State  of  Global  Air  2020  annual  report  and accompanying  interactive  website  are  designed and implemented  by the  Health  Effects  Institute  in cooperation with  the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME2) at  the  University of  Washington,  and  the  University  of  British Columbia; its findings  are  based  on the most  recent  Global  Burden  of  Disease (GBD3)  Study  published  in the  international medical  journal, The  Lancet on October  15, 2020.