India Tops in Air Pollution Related Deaths in Children: WHO

Air pollution is one of the leading threats to child health, accounting for almost 1 in 10 deaths in kids under 5.

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Health News
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Air pollution is one of the leading threats to child health, accounting for almost 1 in 10 deaths in children under five years of age.
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Air pollution is proving to be deadly for kids, damaging their brains and infecting them with serious diseases, finds a new World Health Organization (WHO) report. Every day 1.8 billion children, which makes around 93 percent of the world’s children under the age of 15 years, breathe air that is so polluted it puts their health and development at serious risk.

The report examines the heavy toll that air pollution has on child health, particularly in low- and middle-income countries.

Tragically, many of them die. The WHO estimates that 600,000 children died in 2016 from acute lower respiratory infections caused by dirty air.

According to the WHO report, at least 1,00,000 children below five years died in India in 2016, due to complications in their health that was brought about by increased levels of outdoor and indoor air pollution.

After India, Nigeria ranked second at 98,001 number of child deaths due to air pollution in 2016, followed by Pakistan (38,252), Democratic Republic of Congo (32,647) and Ethiopia (20,330).

The report launches on the eve of WHO’s first ever Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health, where world leaders will commit to act against this serious health threat. FIT and #MyRightToBreathe are reporting live from the event updating you with all the crucial details that come out.

How Air Pollution Impacts Lives of Children

India Tops in Air Pollution Related Deaths in Children: WHO
(Photo: Sameeksha Khare/FIT)

The report slated the death rate per child ratio in India at 50.8 per 1,00,000 children. It also found that out of the number of children under five, who had passed away due to toxic air pollution in 2016, the percentage was higher among the girls.

About 32,889 girls died in 2016, compared to 28,097 boys.

Air pollution is one of the leading threats to child health, accounting for almost 1 in 10 deaths in children under five years of age. The report reveals that when pregnant women are exposed to polluted air, they are more likely to give birth prematurely, and have small, low birth-weight children.

Air pollution impacts neurological development and cognitive ability of kids, negatively affecting mental and motor development. It can also trigger asthma, and childhood cancer.

Children who have been exposed to high levels of air pollution may be at greater risk for chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease later in life. It’s damaging children’s lung function, even at lower levels of exposures.

In low and middle-income countries around the world, 98 percent of all children under 5 are exposed to PM2.5 levels above WHO air quality guidelines. In comparison, in high-income countries, 52 percent of children under 5 are exposed to levels above WHO air quality guidelines.

Air pollution is stunting our children’s brains, affecting their health in more ways than we suspected. 
Dr Maria Neira, Director, Department of Public Health, WHO

One reason why children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of air pollution is that they breathe more rapidly than adults and so absorb more pollutants.

They also live closer to the ground, where some pollutants reach peak concentrations – at a time when their brains and bodies are still developing.

The Proposed Action

Polluted air is poisoning millions of children and ruining their lives. This is inexcusable.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General

More than 40 percent of the world’s population, including 1 billion children, is exposed to high levels of household air pollution from mainly cooking with polluting technologies and fuels.

In addition, newborns and small children are often at home. If the family is burning fuels like wood and kerosene for cooking, heating and lighting, they will be exposed to higher levels of pollution than children who spend more time outside.

Stakeholders from the conference have come up with strategies to reduce household as well industrial pollution.

There are many straight-forward ways to reduce emissions of dangerous pollutants. We are preparing the ground for low emission power generation, cleaner, safer industrial technologies and better municipal waste management.
Dr Maria Neira, Director, Department of Public Health, WHO

Here are some proposed steps to be implemented with support from WHO.

  • Accelerating implementation of policy measures like the switch to clean cooking and heating fuels and technologies. This can drastically improve the air quality within homes.
  • Promoting the use of cleaner transport, energy-efficient housing and urban planning. Governments should adopt measures such as reducing the over-dependence on fossil fuels in the global energy mix, and facilitating the uptake of renewable energy sources.
  • Better waste management can reduce the amount of waste that is burned within communities and thereby reducing ‘community air pollution’.
  • Steps to minimise children’s exposure to dirty air: Schools and playgrounds should be located away from major sources of air pollution like busy roads, factories and power plants.

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