Air pol­lu­tion lead­ing to child deaths: study

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - NICK BAKER n.baker@mm­times.com

Toxic lev­els of air pol­lu­tion in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries are caus­ing se­vere health prob­lems and deaths, with chil­dren the most vul­ner­a­ble.

TOXIC lev­els of air pol­lu­tion in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries like Myan­mar have be­gun to cause mis­car­riages, in­crease in­fant deaths and stunt chil­dren’s cog­ni­tive and phys­i­cal de­vel­op­ment, ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions Chil­dren’s Fund (UNICEF).

UNICEF pulled no punches in a new study that used satel­lite im­agery to ex­am­ine what kind of air is breathed by chil­dren around the world.

“The mag­ni­tude of the dan­ger air pol­lu­tion poses, es­pe­cially to young chil­dren, is enor­mous,” it said.

Low- and mid­dle-in­come na­tions were by far the worst-af­fected, with ve­hi­cle emis­sions, heavy fos­sil fuel use and burn­ing of waste mainly to blame.

Asia was the hard­est-hit re­gion, ac­count­ing for “the vast bulk of to­tal deaths at­trib­ut­able to air pol­lu­tion”.

Dan­gers ap­par­ently be­gin in the womb with pol­luted air “as­so­ci­ated with higher rates of early foetal loss, preterm de­liv­ery and lower birth weight”.

Chil­dren’s lungs were then de­scribed as “in the process of grow­ing and de­vel­op­ing, mak­ing them es­pe­cially vul­ner­a­ble to pol­luted air”.

“Chil­dren breathe twice as fast, tak­ing in more air per unit of body weight, com­pared to adults … [and their] im­mune sys­tems are still de­vel­op­ing, es­pe­cially at young ages [which] in­creases the risks of res­pi­ra­tory in­fec­tion and re­duces the abil­ity of chil­dren to com­bat it,” the re­port, “Clean the Air for the Chil­dren”, said.

Air pol­lu­tion was cited as di­rectly linked to pneu­mo­nia and other res­pi­ra­tory dis­eases that ac­count for al­most one in 10 un­der-five deaths, mak­ing it “one of the lead­ing dan­gers to chil­dren’s health”.

UNICEF ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor An­thony Lake said, “Pol­lu­tants don’t only harm chil­dren’s de­vel­op­ing lungs: They can ac­tu­ally cross the blood-brain bar­rier and per­ma­nently dam­age their de­vel­op­ing brains – and, thus, their fu­tures.”

The UNICEF study comes af­ter a re­cent World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion (WHO) data set showed that Myan­mar’s an­nual me­dian con­cen­tra­tion of mi­cro­scopic pol­lu­tion par­ti­cles was 51, within an es­ti­mated range of 32 to 80.

A con­cen­tra­tion of 10 or below was con­sid­ered harm­less for hu­mans, while 70 or above was seen as ex­tremely un­safe.

WHO num­bers showed that up­ward of 22,000 deaths per year in Myan­mar can be at­trib­uted to am­bi­ent air pol­lu­tion. which is the third-high­est per capita rate in the South­east Asia re­gion.

A spokesper­son for the Myan­mar WHO of­fice cited in­door air pol­lu­tion – the re­sult of cook­ing and heat­ing tech­niques – as a ma­jor con­cern for chil­dren here. In cer­tain ru­ral parts of Myan­mar, as many as 95 per­cent of house­holds still rely on the use of solid fuel – such as wood, crop waste, char­coal, coal or dung – for cook­ing pur­poses.

“In poorly ven­ti­lated set­tings, in­door smoke can be 100 times higher than ac­cept­able lev­els for fine par­ti­cles. Ex­po­sure is par­tic­u­larly high among women and young chil­dren, who spend the most time at home,” the spokesper­son said.

The UNICEF re­port said re­duc­ing air pol­lu­tion “is one of the most im­por­tant things we can do for chil­dren”.

It called on gov­ern­ments to bet­ter mon­i­tor pol­lu­tion, cut back fos­sil fuel use, in­crease chil­dren’s ac­cess to health­care, min­imise chil­dren’s ex­po­sure by mov­ing sources of pol­lu­tion away from schools and reduce the amount of waste that is burned within com­mu­ni­ties.

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