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‘Air pollution causes 8m deaths/yr’

Deaths due to air pollution have increased fourfold across the globe over the past decade, the latest assessment by the World Health Organization shows. The database on which the report is based shows that China and India are by far the worst affected countries.

“Air pollution is one of the main avoidable causes of disease and death globally. About 4.3 million deaths each year, most in developing countries, are associated with exposure to household (indoor) air pollution. A further 3.7 million deaths a year are attributed to ambient (outdoor) air pollution,” a report by the WHO secretariat, said. The report, titled ‘Health and the environment: addressing the health impact of air pollution’, is to be presented at the 68th World Health Assembly which opened on Monday in Geneva.

It highlights the risks of an increasing disease burden due to polluted air at home and outside.

WHO’S 2005 global update on air quality noted that more than two million premature deaths each year can be attributed to the effects of urban outdoor air pollution and indoor air pollution (from the burning of solid fuels).

The latest report does not give details, but the datasets on which it is based do give break-ups of deaths due to indoor air pollution countrywise and those due to outdoor or ‘ambient’ air pollution region-wise.

What the data shows is that of the 4.3 million deaths globally from indoor air pollution, China accounted for nearly 1.5 million and India for close to 1.3 million. Between them, the two Asian giants accounted for nearly two-thirds of the global total.

As for outdoor pollution, the south-east Asian region, which includes India in the WHO categorisation, accounted for about 9.4 lakh deaths and the category that includes China had 1.7 million. The two regions were home to over two-thirds of global deaths due to this cause. While developing countries were found bearing the maximum disease burden due to air pollution even in 2005, the WHO report then had warned of rising pollution in developing countries by 2030 along with advancement of transportation, housing and other infrastructure.

The latest report talks in details about the adverse effects of both indoor and outdoor air pollution on health. For instance, exposure to air pollution is a leading risk factor for non-communicable diseases, in particular: ischaemia, myocardial infarction, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and cancers.

Lung cancer deaths due to air pollution have also increased significantly since 2005.According to the latest report, around 30% of all lung cancer deaths can be attributed to the joint effects of household and ambient air pollution, whereas in 2005, 62,000 lung cancer deaths out of the total 1.2 million deaths each year worldwide were attributed to urban outdoor air pollution.

Health ministers from around the world will deliberate on the issue and consider the recommendations made in the report during the ongoing World Health Assembly , where India has assumed presidency after a gap of 19 years. WHO member states are also expected to pass a resolution for prevention and control of adverse impacts of pollution on health during the annual health assembly .

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