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Alarming statistics demonstrate major threat of air pollution in second plenary

01 Nov 2019

The plenary session today shared results of a study on the harmful effects of air pollution, which start even before we are born, with 287 pollutants detected in samples of umbilical cord blood. 120 million children under the age of five suffer from pneumonia, with 50 percent of child deaths from pneumonia being attributable to air pollution.

Air pollution kills 6.5 million people every year, three times more than AIDS, tuberculosis (TB) and malaria combined. Air pollutants increase the risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cancer, heart attack, diabetes, and obesity, to name a few.

Dr Sundeep Salvi, Director of the Chest Research Foundation, Pune, India, said: “life is the time interval between your first breath and your last – the quality of the air that you breathe is a prime determinant of health.”

Air pollution has been found to affect every organ of the body, and in regions where biomass fuels are commonly used, or where mosquito coils are often burned at night, populations suffer much higher risk of adverse health effects.

India, the host country to the 50th Union World Conference on Lung Health, is home to one-in-ten of the world’s asthma patients, reported Arumugam Sankar from Empower in Tuticorin, India. He referred to one source that claimed 14 out of 15 of the most polluted cities in the world are also in India. An asthma sufferer himself, he talked about the need for asthma sufferers to safeguard themselves by following key recommendations such as checking air pollution levels before venturing out, avoiding areas with a high burden of traffic, and refraining from burning rubbish. His presentation asked stakeholders to recognise the significance of asthma as a lung health disease.

Paula Johns, co-founder and director of the ACT Tobacco Control Alliance, a Brazilian coalition of over a thousand members, warned of ‘old style’ tobacco industry interference, such as claims that increases in taxes result in increases in contraband, or references to the impact of regulation on tobacco growing farmers. She then contrasted this with ‘new style’ interference, such as promoting a stakeholder role in Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), or focuses on ‘harm reduction’.

In the face of an industry, which claims to be transforming itself through organisations such as the Philip Morris-funded Foundation for a Smoke-free World, Johns advocated for a tobacco response with the flexibility and strength to adapt to all contexts and include other important factors, such as ‘dual use’ (concomitant use of two forms of tobacco being a major problem), the need to focus on long-term health benefits, and the need to consider effects over the entire population.

Air pollution kills around 6.5 million people every year. Although the annual death figures dwarf those from HIV, malaria and TB, this killer does not receive equivalent attention. Were a new infectious agent to emerge that killed 6.5 million people every year a global health emergency would be declared. The session and its speakers recognise the emergency of air pollution and called for new science, leadership and action to end it.

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