Toxic air killed highest number of children in India in 2016: WHO report

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  • World Health Organisation (WHO) has reported that India has the highest child mortality rate due to air pollution for the year 2016.
  • Over 1 lakh children below the age of 5 were killed by the exposure to polluted air.
  • Health professionals have been advised to come together to address the threat through integrated efforts.
According to the recent data released by World Health Organisation (WHO), India was reported to have the highest number of children deaths due to air pollution in 2016. Over 1 lakh children below the age of five have succumbed to health issues due to exposure to air pollution.

In a report titled ‘Air Pollution and Child Health: Prescribing Clean Air’, it has been stated that 93% of the children in India live in environments exposed to air pollution levels that are above WHO guidelines. One in every four deaths in India is due to the environmental risks. The report found that about 60,000 children died due to respiratory infections caused by toxic air in the year 2016. The report also stated that exposure to polluted particles in both ambient environment and household causes seven million premature deaths a year.

In a conversation with News18, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, said that the polluted air is poisoning millions of children and ruining their lives. “Every child should be able to breathe clean air so they can grow and fulfil their full potential,” he said.

The report also mentioned that poverty is correlated with high exposure to environmental health risks due to lack of information, treatment and other healthcare resources.

The polluted air has high ratio of toxins such as black carbon and sulphate, which are most dangerous to health. These toxins can adversely affect the cardiovascular system and lungs and may cause asthma. These tiny pollutants can enter the bloodstream and directly affect the lungs.

According to the study, India tops the list of worst countries in terms of child mortality. The deaths are caused by both indoor and outdoor PM2.5 pollutants. The study has also listed why children are more vulnerable to air pollution than adults since children breathe at twice the rate that adults do and so inhale larger amounts of pollutants. This has reportedly also increased the risk of blood cancer in children.

Nearly 65% of homes in India still continue to use biomass fuel for cooking which has proved to be harmful for infants and children below the age of five.

WHO has advised that health professionals come together to address this threat on priority through integrated efforts.

Past researches have also shown that expecting mothers have been highly affected by breathing toxic air which has resulted in stillbirths and low birth weight.
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