Air pollution killed 500,000 newborns in 2019

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Air pollution killed 476,000 newborns in 2019, with the biggest hotspots in India and Sub-Saharan Africa, according to a new global study which said that nearly two-thirds of the deaths came from noxious fumes from cooking fuels.

More than 116,000 Indian infants died from air pollution in the first month of life, and the corresponding figure was 236,000 in Sub-Saharan Africa, according to the State of Global Air 2020.

The estimates were produced by the United States (US)-based Health Effects Institute (HEI) and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation’s Global Burden of Disease project.

The authors wrote they relied on a growing body of evidence linking mothers’ exposures during pregnancy to air pollution with the increased risk of their infants being born too small (low birth weight) or too early (preterm birth).

These conditions are associated with serious complications and already account for the vast majority of neonatal deaths in both regions.

An smoggy sky is seen over Columbus Ave caused in San Francisco. PHOTO: AP

The new analysis estimated what per centage of those deaths came from ambient and household air pollution. “An infant’s health is critical to the future of every society, and this newest evidence suggests an especially high risk for infants born in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa,” said HEI President Dan Greenbaum.

“Although there has been slow and steady reduction in household reliance on poor-quality fuels, the air pollution from these fuels continues to be a key factor in the deaths of these youngest infants,” he added.

Overall, the report found that air pollution led to 6.7 million deaths worldwide in 2019, making it the fourth leading cause of death behind high blood pressure, tobacco use, and dietary risks.