Air pollution second biggest reason for deaths among young kids in South Asia: Study - Hindustan Times
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Air pollution second biggest reason for deaths among young kids in South Asia: Study

ByJayashree Nandi
Jun 19, 2024 02:11 PM IST

In 2021, exposure to air pollution was linked to more than 2,60,600 deaths of children under 5, making it the second-most leading risk factor for deaths in South Asia for this age group, after malnutrition

An estimated 1.6 lakh children under the age of 5 may have died in India due to air pollution or related causes in 2021, according to the State of Global Air report released on Wednesday.

Children walk to school wearing face masks to protect themselves from air pollution in Delhi. (Raj K Raj/HT File Photo)
Children walk to school wearing face masks to protect themselves from air pollution in Delhi. (Raj K Raj/HT File Photo)

The air pollution-linked death rate in children under the age of 5 in South Asia is 164 per 100,000, compared to a global average of 108 per 100,000, according to estimates based on the Global Burden of Disease.

In 2021, India (169,400 deaths), Nigeria (114,100 deaths), Pakistan (68,100 deaths), Ethiopia (31,100 deaths), and Bangladesh (19,100 deaths) recorded the maximum numbers of air pollution-related deaths among such children, the report said.

“Some of the greatest health impacts of air pollution are seen in children. Children are uniquely vulnerable to air pollution and the damage from air pollution can start in the womb, with health effects that last a lifetime. For example, children inhale more air per kilogramme of body weight and absorb more pollutants relative to adults while their lungs, bodies and brains are still developing,” the report said.

Health effects among children include premature birth, low birth weight, asthma and lung diseases. In 2021, exposure to air pollution was linked to more than 2,60,600 deaths of children under 5, making it the second-most leading risk factor for deaths in South Asia for this age group, after malnutrition.

The report, based on data from the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study (GBD 2021) of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, states that despite progress, air pollution-related deaths among children under five have remained high in some regions, particularly in South Asia and East, West, Central, and Southern Africa.

Exposure to air pollution in young children is linked to pneumonia, lower respiratory tract infections (responsible for 1 in 5 child deaths globally), and asthma, the most common chronic respiratory disease in older children, the report said.

Globally, air pollution from PM2.5 (fine, respirable pollution particles) and ozone was estimated to lead to 8.1 million deaths – about 12% of the total global deaths in 2021. PM2.5 (both ambient and household together) is the largest contributor to the air pollution disease burden worldwide, accounting for 7.8 million deaths, or more than 90% of the total air pollution disease burden.

With populations over 1 billion each, India (2.1 million deaths) and China (2.3 million deaths) together account for 54% of the total global disease burden.

“Overall, 2021 saw more deaths linked to air pollution than were estimated for any previous year, indicating the disease burden of air pollution has continued to rise,” the report concluded.

Other countries with high impacts include Pakistan (256,000 deaths), Myanmar (101,600 deaths), and Bangladesh (236,300 deaths) in South Asia.

“Despite progress in maternal and child health, every day almost 2,000 children under five years of age die because of health impacts linked to air pollution,” UNICEF deputy executive director Kitty van der Heijden said on Wednesday.

“Our inaction is having profound effects on the next generation, with lifelong health and wellbeing impacts. The global urgency is undeniable. It is imperative governments and businesses consider these estimates and locally available data and use it to inform meaningful, child-focused action to reduce air pollution and protect children’s health,” van der Heijden said.

The report acknowledged that since 2000, the death rate linked to children under five has dropped by 53%, largely due to efforts aimed at expanding access to clean energy for cooking, as well as improvements in access to healthcare, nutrition, and better awareness about the harms associated with exposure to household air pollution.

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