Air pollution killed around 116,000 infants in India within the first month of being born, found a new global study on air pollution’s burden on health worldwide.
More than half the infant deaths were due to PM 2.5 (particulate matter 30 times finer than human hair that enters the bloodstream and causes severe health risks) in outdoor air and the rest were linked to household air pollution due to use of solid fuels, such as charcoal, wood, and animal dung for cooking, found the State of Global Air 2020 report (SoGA 2020) released on October 21. The report published by the US-based think-tank, Health Effects Institute, claims to be the first-ever comprehensive analysis of air pollution’s global impact on newborns.
Among the youngest infants, most deaths were related to complications from low birth weight and premature birth — direct outcomes of mothers’ exposure to air pollution during pregnancy, found the study. Babies born with a low birth weight are more susceptible to childhood infections and pneumonia. The lungs of pre-term babies can also not be fully developed.
“By limiting the growth and development of babies and children, air pollution lowers their lifelong health and productivity,” said Dean Spears, founding executive director, Research Institute for Compassionate Economics (r.i.c.e.). “Yet, the consequences of air pollution for children do not get the attention that they deserve.” Spears has spent years studying the impact of air pollution on children in India.
Children’s early-life health directly impacts their adult economic productivity and the harm done to children makes air pollution such an economic cost that addressing the problem could be an economic policy that pays for itself, said Spears. His research found children born in places and times when the air pollution was especially bad grew up to be not as tall as children born in less-polluted times in the same locality.
“This newest evidence suggests an especially high risk for infants born in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa,” said Dan Greenbaum, president, Health Effects Institute, on October 21.