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Pollution linked to infant deaths in India: report

An EDMC vehicle sprinkling water to reduce air pollution in New Delhi on Sunday.   | Photo Credit: R.V. Moorthy

Outdoor and household particulate matter pollution contributed to the deaths of more than 1,16,000 Indian infants in their first month of life in 2019, according to State of Global Air 2020 report by the U.S.-based Health Effects Institute. 

More than half of these deaths were associated with outdoor PM2.5 and others linked to use of solid fuels such as charcoal, wood, and animal dung for cooking.

India faced the highest per capita pollution exposure—or 83.2 μg/cubic metre — in the world, followed by Nepal at 83.1 μg/cubic metre and Niger at 80.1, according to the report, which sources its data from publicly available sources. Countries with the least population exposure are below 8 micrograms (μg) per cubic metre.

The government has claimed that average pollution levels in India are declining over the last three years but these have been marginal, particularly in the Indo-Gangetic plains, which see extremely high particulate matter pollution exposure particularly during winter.

After a decline in pollution due to the lockdown, pollution levels are again rising and air quality has already dipped to ‘very poor’ category in several cities.

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 and overall, air pollution was now the largest risk factor for death among all health risks, the report noted.

COVID-19 related concerns

COVID-19 — a disease for which people with heart and lung diseases are particularly at risk of infection and death — has claimed more than 1,10,000 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 diseases, creating a growing concern that exposures to high levels of air pollution, during winter months in South Asian countries and East Asia, could worsen 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, in a statement. “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.” 

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Printable version | Nov 24, 2020 5:26:37 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/pollution-linked-to-116000-infant-deaths-in-india-in-2019-report/article32907489.ece

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