Published: 30th October 2018
93 percent children exposed to toxic air, could die before turning 15: WHO report
The report details the different ways in which children are at risk of serious and permanent damage to health and methods to prevent it
One in every eight deaths in the world has been attributed to the joint effects of outdoor and indoor pollution - a total of seven million deaths. Among these, 5,43,000 death are of children below the age of fie and 52,000 deaths in children aged between 5-15. This is what the latest report by the World Health organisation says.
The PM2.5 refers to atmospheric particulate matter (PM) that have a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers, which is about 3% the diameter of a human hair. Commonly written as PM2.5, particles in this category are so small that they can only be detected with an electron microscope. Owing to their minute size, particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers are able to bypass the nose and throat and penetrate deep into the lungs and some may even enter the circulatory system. According to the report, in India the PM2.5 exposure total is 65.2 ug/m3, which essentially means this the measure of the concentration of the air pollutant per cubic meter air.
The report states that the 93 percent of the world's children face serious health problems because of the polluted air that they breathe.
The report was launched on the eve of WHO's first ever global conference on air pollution and health and examines the heavy toll of both ambient (outside) and household air pollution on the children especially from low and middle-income countries. Air pollution also impacts neurodevelopment and cognitive ability and can 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.
“Polluted air is poisoning millions of children and ruining their lives,” says Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “This is inexcusable. Every child should be able to breathe clean air so they can grow and fulfill their full potential.” According to the report, one of the reasons why children are more vulnerable to the ill effects of air pollution is that they breathe more rapidly than adults. Since they are also closer to the ground where the pollutants reach peak concentrations, the children are more susceptible since their bodies are still developing.
“Air Pollution is stunting our children’s brains, affecting their health in more ways than we suspected. But there are many straight-forward ways to reduce emissions of dangerous pollutants,” says Dr Maria Neira, Director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health at WHO.
More than 40% of the world’s population – which includes for 1 billion children under 15 - is exposed to high levels of household air pollution from mainly cooking with polluting technologies and fuels.
The report states - "The heightened risks of children should lead health professionals to consider the “precautionary principle”: when there is a likelihood of serious or irreversible damage to health, a lack of full scientific certainty should not preclude the pursuit of effective preventive measures (14). The American Public Health Association (15) and WHO (16) have proposed approaches for using the precautionary principle to protect children from environmental risks such as air pollution. For some of the health outcomes discussed above, there is strong evidence of the effects of AAP on child health effects, but few studies of HAP. As AAP and HAP share many of the same types of combustion sources, minimizing children’s exposure to both forms of pollution, especially during the most sensitive developmental stages of early life, should take precedence over establishing near-certainty about the full extent of the risk and the mechanisms involved."
“Air Pollution is stunting our children’s brains, affecting their health in more ways than we suspected. But there are many straight-forward ways to reduce emissions of dangerous pollutants ,” says Dr Maria Neira, Director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health at WHO.
“WHO is supporting implementation of health-wise policy measures like accelerating the switch to clean cooking and heating fuels and technologies, promoting the use of cleaner transport, energy-efficient housing and urban planning. We are preparing the ground for low emission power generation, cleaner, safer industrial technologies and better municipal waste management, ” she added.