Watch| WHO Expert Explains the Impact of Air Pollution on COVID-19

Learn about air pollution and COVID-19 from Dr Maria Neira in Science in 5 

2 min read
Science in 5: WHO expert explains how air pollution will impact those battling COVID-19.

The World Health Organisation's weekly show Science in 5 brings together some of the biggest scientists, experts and doctors who are working on the coronavirus to educate on the various aspects of the disease, the pandemic, vaccines and treatments.

The show is hosted by WHO's head of strategy, department of communications, Vismita Gupta-Smith. Do listen to Dr.T Maria Neira, WHO Director, Department of Public Health, Environment and Social Determinants of Health, who throws light on the effects of air pollution on our bodies in times of COVID-19.

How concerned should we be about air pollution and COVID-19?

Certainly Vismita, we are very concerned because air pollution as probably many people know by now, leads to seven million premature deaths every year. If you realise that exposure to air pollution will increase the risk of diseases of the respiratory system, and COVID-19 is mainly a disease of the respiratory system, you will realise that we are increasing the vulnerability of people who are exposed to air pollution. Therefore, we need to make sure that this double burden is tackled in a very important way, addressing as well the causes of air pollution.

How does air pollution impact our body?

Well, air pollution is the bad quality of the air we breathe and that bad quality of the air we breathe, it goes to our lungs. Through our lungs it will cause already a major damage, increasing the risk of chronic respiratory diseases: lung cancer, obstructive pulmonary diseases, asthma, pneumonia and others. And from there, the very small particles can reach the bloodstream, affecting as well our cardiovascular system and other organs. In the case of the patients with COVID-19, those who will be at more severe risk of developing illness are those with underlying conditions like high blood pressure, heart diseases or respiratory diseases. We see where air pollution might exacerbate those diseases and make patients, the population, more vulnerable to the diseases, plus to the severity of developing a more serious illness.

What can we do to protect ourselves from air pollution, as well as COVID-19?

Well, I think for COVID-19, WHO has repeated many times what are the measures we need to take : washing your hands, maintaining good hygiene, ensuring that you respect the physical distance that it is recommended, avoid very crowded places where you have a very close contact with other people, ensuring natural ventilation and the use of masks whenever they are recommended. But in the case of air pollution, the most important recommendation we can say is that in those countries where the levels of air pollution is very high, we need to enforce legislation to reduce levels of air pollution. We need to make sure that as citizens, we are aware of the fact that air pollution is affecting our health, and by doing so, requesting our authorities, at the city or at the country level, to tackle the causes of air pollution, reducing the emissions. And particularly, an important one will be stopping burning fossil fuels, which are contributing enormously to this air pollution and therefore, the illnesses that exposure to air pollution is causing.

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