Global Burden of Disease ranks air pollution as a top killer

Killer outdoor air contributes to 1.2 million deaths in East Asia which is in throes of high level of economic growth and motorization and 712,000 deaths in South Asia which is at the take-off stage

By Anumita Roychowdhury
Last Updated: Monday 17 August 2015

Air quality gains with technology can get nullified if vehicle numbers are not contained (Photo by Amit Shankar)

The findings of the new Global Burden of Disease (GBD) count, a global initiative involving the World Health Organisation, says air pollution has become one of the top 10 killers in the world. GBD tracks deaths and illnesses from all causes across the world. According to it, in South Asia, air pollution is ranked as the sixth most dangerous killer. It is now three places behind indoor air pollution, which is the second highest killer in this region.

The latest GBD results have been produced through a rigorous scientific process involving over 450 global experts and partner institutions, including the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, the World Health Organization, the University of Queensland in Australia, Johns Hopkins University and Harvard University. The Health Effects Institute has played a leading role in the expert group conducting the air pollution analysis

This GBD count on air pollution and its health risks must trigger urgent, aggressive and most stringent action in India to curb air pollution to protect public health. India cannot afford to enhance health risk at a time when much of its economic growth and motorization are yet to happen.

Alarming facts about killer breath

There has been shocking increase in global death toll due to outdoor air pollution. According to the latest tally, air pollution causes 3.2 million deaths each year worldwide. This has increased from 800,000, last estimated by GBD in 2000—a whopping 300 per cent increase. In 2000, GBD assessments had reported a much smaller air pollution-related burden of disease. The new estimates of particulate air pollution are based on ground-level measurements, satellite remote sensing and global chemical transport models to capture population exposure.

Air pollution is amongst the top 10 killers in the world. In South Asia, air pollution has been ranked just below blood pressure, tobacco smoking, indoor air pollution, poor intake of fruits and diabetes. This is scary as outdoor air pollution is a leveller that makes everyone—rich and the poor—vulnerable.

Two-thirds of the death burden from outdoor air pollution occurs in developing Asia, including India. The new GBD estimates over 2.1 million premature deaths and 52 million years of healthy life lost in 2010 due to fine particle air pollution in Asia, which is two-thirds of the burden worldwide. Killer outdoor air contributes to 1.2 million deaths in East Asia which is in throes of high level of economic growth and motorization and 712,000 deaths in South Asia (including India) which is at the take-off stage. This is much higher than the combined toll of 400,000 in the 27 EU countries, Eastern Europe, and Russia.

India cannot afford to ignore numbers anymore

There is hard evidence now to act urgently to reduce the public health risks to all, particularly children, elderly, and the poor. No one can escape toxic air. India will have to take aggressive action to reverse the trend of short-term respiratory and cardiac effects as well as the long-term cancer and other metabolic and cellular effects. Toxic effects like cancer surface after a long latency period. Therefore, exposure to air pollution will have to be reduced today to reduce the burden of diseases.

The government must account for health cost in decision making. Valuation of acute and chronic illnesses must be linked to decision on air pollution control measures.

The time has come to make national ambient air quality standards legally binding in all regions. The national air quality planning and city action plans need a road map for each source of pollution and aggressive measures. Impose penalty on cities if air quality standards are violated. Critically polluted areas need stringent implementation plans. At the same time install public information system on daily air quality with health advisories and implement smog alert and pollution emergencies measures

The government must not delay in framing of the vehicle technology and fuel quality road map to get to Euro VI levels as quickly as possible and also put in place a robust in-use vehicle management to cut toxic vehicular fume.

But the air quality gains from the technology improvement can be nullified if the explosive increase in vehicle numbers is not contained. Cities need to scale up public transport, non-motorised transport and promote compact city planning to reduce travel distances.

GBD report findings
The Global Burden of Diseases (GBD), 2010 is a systematic effort of scientists and researchers from around the world to describe the global distribution and causes of various diseases, injuries and health risk factors.

The study shows that although the scenario has improved in a lot of areas like lower neonatal mortality and mother and child sickness, deaths among young and middle aged adults are increasing due to non communicable diseases especially cancer and heart diseases.

The year of 2010 saw 52.8 million deaths globally. In 2010, the three leading risk factors for global disease burden were high blood pressure, tobacco smoking, including second-hand smoke and alcohol use. Hypertension caused 9.4 million deaths, tobacco smoking caused 6.3 million deaths and alcohol use led to 5 million deaths. Dietary risk factors and physical inactivity collectively accounted for 10% of global DALYs in 2010, with the most prominent dietary risks being diets low in fruits and those high in sodium.

In 1990, the leading risks were childhood underweight, household air pollution from solid fuels and tobacco smoking, including second-hand smoke. The decline in deaths due to communicable, maternal, neonatal and nutritional causes was because of decrease in diarrhoeal mortality (from 2•5 to 1•4 million), lower respiratory infections (from 3•4 to 2•8 million), and reduction in neonatal disorders (from 3•1 to 2•2 million). This has led to fewer children dying. However, “deaths from HIV/AIDS increased from 0•30 million in 1990 to 1•5 million in 2010, reaching a peak of 1•7 million in 2006. Deaths from non-communicable diseases rose by just under 8 million between 1990 and 2010, accounting for two of every three deaths (34•5 million) worldwide by 2010”.

Although the life expectancy years have grown by 10 years since 1990, the Healthy Life Expectancy years (HALE) have grown very slowly. In 2010, global male HALE at birth was 58•3 years and global female HALE at birth was 61•8 years. The much smaller improvements in male mortality are largely due to the greater impact of tobacco use in men.

- input by Ratnika Sharma

Global burden of disease study 2010

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  • What happened to our right to

    What happened to our right to CLEAN AIR! & What Price we are paying for someone else sin & Is Pure air now the most essential commodity ?
    We human being have been paying for everything what we get free from nature like water , food , oil ... only air we get was free but now it is high time that even for pure air we have to pay for it .

    We are slowly breathing less and less oxygen from the atmosphere caused by Virtually every automobile ride,every plane trip and in most places every flip of a light switch adds pollution to the air & relatively little money is being spent to find and deploy alternative technologies.
    Breathing pure air would be the distance dream as the time passes and air pollution would be the biggest threat to human being. Every Life on earth have right for pure air, water, food which nature has given us free, Everything that nature has given us free has been spoiled by we human being in name of industrialization or progress no life on the earth has right to pollute these ntural resourse

    Many of us have developed poor breathing and lifestyle habits, further restricting our oxygen intake. It would not be exaggerated to say that "Breathing the air in Indian metro for just ONE DAY is equivalent to smoking 2.5 packs of cigarettes!ÔÇØ & most effected are senior citizen, asthama patient, children as their lungs & heart are in developing stage or weak
    As India is forecasted to be 3rd largest auto producer and fastest growing economy after china & usa one can imagine how much air pollution itÔÇÖs going to be. Lung disease is now the leading cause of death & Lung cancer is cause of leading death of cancer death

    Breathing air is continues process, Your lungs is living air purifier within your body , our lungs are "designed" or "evolved" to filter out the smallest of gas particles, The respiratory system is ulitimately associates with the circulatory system such that over 9,000 liters of air meets with 10,000 liters of blood in the lungs every day. In other words we can say that your life depends on your lungs . Unfortunately, the lungs filter out more than just oxygen, the air we breath while at home, in the car, at work, or at play is often times not very pure, hence our lungs are frequently exposed to damaging particulates and vapors both manmade and natural and one important fact is that once your lungs is damaged is not replacable or repariable

    Our campaign started with blowing the lid on smog and exposing the smogmakers in a city where a person dies every hour due to air pollution. The campaign carries on to clean the air of noxious pollutants to make breathing easier for all.

    The case for taking stronger measures to reduce air pollution is becoming clearer everyday as the media and the medical community spell out the dangers of exposure to air pollution. Pollutants such as airborne particulate matter and ground-level ozone are increasing mortality and hospital admissions due to respiratory and cardiovascular disease.

    Exposure to air polluted area poses one of the highest risks since it has the greatest population effect as more people are exposed to it. Here, doctors are studying asthma and other breathing problems that can plague children living and learning in polluted area ÔÇô problems that can follow them throughout life and affect their lung growth and body development . & most dengrous is that pregnant women exposure to air pollution can significantly reduce a child's IO as per study conducted by THE MAILMAN SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH IN NEW YORK. regulatory efforts to curb air pollution on a local, domestic, and global scale need to be rigorously implemented, enforced, and enhanced

    Governments, as public servants, have the duty and responsibility to protect the health of their citizens. But nothing much has been done & we citizen pay for some one else sin There's no death certificate that says specifically someone died of air pollution , but cities with higher rates of air pollution have much greater rates of death from cardiovascular diseases

    It is time to revise the pollution monitoring standards and increase the number of stations as new pollutants can get into urban environments anytime. We lack a proper system to analyse the levels of benzene and other dangerous pollutants. The current PM10 (particulate pollution) standard also has to be revised

    The importance of having an effective air-pollution policy for the benefit of health. Is much in need and should follow world health organisation (WHO) guidelines and policy set for Air Quality, but its long process till then what? Shall we stop breathing till an effective air pollution policy comes into act is that possible? No, we have to breath the avaliable quality of air be it good bad or ugly

    The Benefits and Costs of the Clear Air Act from 1990 to 2020ÔÇØ, released by the US Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) This report shows that the health benefits greatly exceed the costs of implementing clean-air protection by quantifying the number of health-related events preventable as a result of the Act. The numbers estimated for the year 2020 are dramatic: not only will existing regulations save USD 2 trillion (about EUR 1.4 trillion) in health costs; it is also estimated that they will save about 230,000 lives and prevent 200,000 heart attacks, 2.4 million asthma attacks, and 17 million lost working days.

    On a global scale, WHO estimates that at least 2 million people suffer premature deaths globally each year because of the health effects caused by a lack of clean air. These deaths vary from region to region. In Asia alone, for example, a report published last year found that air pollution in many Asian cities exceeds WHOÔÇÖs air quality guidelines and that toxic cocktails of pollutants cause 530,000 premature deaths a year.

    With rapid growth in Industrialization, Automobile sale & power generation its high time that INDIA too evaluate the effect of air pollution on economy be it health wise or financial wise

    Clean air for life starts with good ventilation and effective and sustainable filtration solutions. It continues with public awareness of key steps that can be taken to maintain a healthy indoor environment and prevent exposure to air pollutants. When filtration gives us better control over the indoor environment of our homes, offices, hotels, shopping centres, schools, and other buildings, we are healthier, feel better and perform more effectively.

    Efficient filtration solutions exist to clean air and protect people but few are aware of the benefits of clean air for productivity or controlling costs. Protecting people from the health impact of air pollution costs money, but it is also a long-term investment that can reduce the cost of higher sick leave rates at workplaces and associated medical expenses, as well as boost workplace productivity, as documented in studies.

    Do we have right for clean air ?

    we believe there is a need to increase general awareness of air pollution and to put Air Quality (AQ) on the political agenda. AQ should be a public health concern.

    For example, vulnerable individuals who live in polluted area , where air pollution is a serious health risk, should fight for their right to breathe cleaner air. Doctors could be their vocal allies in this struggle.

    We need to pay attention to the importance of healthy AQ. Our vision is clear: clean air should be considered a human right.
    You can't change your "living air purifier filters" so be careful what you inhale. The damage may be irreversible! as proverb says "prevention is better than cure "

    Posted by: Anonymous | 7 years ago | Reply