New Delhi air quality, underappreciated contributor to ill health.
Of the total deaths in India in 2017, 1.24 million deaths, equivalent to 12·5 percent of total mortalities, could be attributed to air pollution, said a paper by India State Level Disease Burden Initiative, published in The Lancet in December.
Air pollution (both outdoor and that within households from cooking) is a major and under-appreciated contributor to ill health in India, on average responsible for nearly 2 years of life expectancy loss across the population.
Air pollution has its greatest impacts on the very young and on the older members of the population. A WHO report released in October 2018 said that over 1.25 lakh children in India below the age of five died in 2016 due to the impact of polluted air.
But even as studies untangle the link between poor air quality and human health, the Indian government has said there are no conclusive data available in the country to establish direct correlation of death/disease exclusively due to air pollution.
India’s death and disease burden due to air pollution, an “under-appreciated contributor” to ill health, is disproportionately high, a study has said, underscoring that toxic air prematurely kills 11 percent of people younger than 70 years.
Of the total deaths in India in 2017, 1.24 million deaths, equivalent to 12·5 percent of total mortalities, could be attributed to air pollution, said the paper by the India State Level Disease Burden Initiative, published in The Lancet in December.
This means air pollution is responsible for one out of every eight deaths in India.
These fatalities include 0·67 million deaths due to outdoor particulate matter pollution while 0·48 million human lives are snuffed out due to household air pollution.
Connecting the dots on air pollution, death and disease burden, the study revealed that India comprised 18 percent of the global population in 2017, but had 26 percent of global DALYs (a measure of disease burden) attributable to air pollution.
Disability-Adjusted Life Year (DALY) denotes the sum of years of potential life lost due to premature mortality and the years of productive life lost due to disability.
“Many don’t die but have sickness which impacts their life. The DALY or overall disease burden captures both the burden of mortality and morbidity (non-fatal health problems),” Lalit Dandona, distinguished research professor, Public Health Foundation of India, and Director, India State-Level Disease Burden Initiative.
Bad air affects the very young and very old
Air pollution has its greatest impacts on the very young and on the older members of the population, highlighted The Lancet study co-author Michael Brauer, professor at the University of British Columbia, Canada.
According to the study, a substantial eight percent of the total disease burden in India and 11 percent of premature deaths in people younger than 70 years could be attributed to air pollution.
“For the very young, air pollution increases the likelihood of acute respiratory infections (pneumonia) which can be fatal,” said Brauer.
For older people, air pollution accelerates the progression of some of the most important diseases – chronic lung disease, heart disease, diabetes as well as strokes.
Air pollution isn’t the main reason people die, but because essentially everyone in India is exposed to unhealthy levels of air pollution, it has a very large impact on the population as a whole, he said.
“We know that in places with lower levels of pollution, people will live longer than those who live in more polluted areas (after controlling for other factors that also contribute to life shortening),” Brauer reasoned.