Air pollution, a major risk to health

Naciones Unidas impulsa la reducción de la contaminación del aire y las enfermedades relacionadas

contaminación aire salud
Foto: Pixabay

La contaminación del aire causa 7 millones de muertes prematuras en todo el mundo cada año, según estimaciones de la Organización Mundial de la Salud (OMS). Por lo tanto, actuar sobre la contaminación del aire es fundamental para conseguir un futuro saludable para todos.

According to WHO, health effects of air pollution from particulate matter are well-known, and range from increased hospital admissions and emergency room visits, to increased risk of premature death, mainly from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (43%), lung cancer (29%), heart disease (25%), stroke (24%), and acute respiratory infections (17%) in children. In this context, worldwide efforts are being made to reduce both air pollution peaks and long-term exposure to harmful levels. “However, air pollution episodes and sustained high levels still occur in various parts of the world,” as highlighted by the UN body.

“The burden of disease is expected to greatly increase,” the WHO remarks.

The organisation highlights that in children and adults, both short- and long-term exposure to ambient air pollution can lead to reduced lung function, respiratory infections, and aggravated asthma. Furthermore, they focus the attention on adverse birth outcomes associated with maternal exposure to ambient air pollution, such as low birth weight, pre-term birth, and small gestational age births. And they go on to stress that emerging evidence also suggests ambient air pollution may affect diabetes and neurological development in children. “Considering the precise death and disability toll from many of the conditions mentioned are not currently quantified in current estimates, with growing evidence, the burden of disease from ambient air pollution is expected to greatly increase,” the WHO remarks.

A global problem

As surprising as it may sound, around 91% of the world’s population lives in places where air quality levels exceed the WHO limits. “While ambient air pollution affects developed and developing countries alike, low- and middle-income countries experience the highest burden, with the greatest toll in the WHO Western Pacific and South-East Asia regions,” as stated by the organisation.

“Exposure to environmental pollutants causes at least 21,000 deaths every year in Spain,” according to ISGlobal.

In Spain, as reported in a Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study published in Lancet in 2017 “exposure to environmental pollutants causes at least 21,000 deaths every year, of which at least 15,000 can be attributed to air pollution.” The Barcelona Institute for Global Health, ISGlobal, participated in this study that estimates that environmental factors account for 5% of the disease burden in Spain compared to 6% for the European Union, while the worldwide average environmental burden rises to 13%.

Effective solutions

WHO reports on effective solutions that can lead to a reduction of key sources of ambient air pollution, such as policies and investments supporting cleaner transport, energy-efficient housing, power generation, industry, and better municipal waste management. Linking with that, to enhance the reduction of air pollution, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) call for a substantial reduction in deaths and illnesses from air pollution (SDG3); as well as to ensure access to clean energy in homes (SDG7), provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems  and to reduce the environmental impact of cities by improving air quality (SDG11).

Air Pollution is also the theme for World Environment Day 2019 celebrations on 5 June, that will urge governments, industry, communities, and individuals to improve air quality in cities and regions across the world by putting in place solutions across a wide range of sectors.

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