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Air pollution is killing children in African cities

Far fewer infants in sub-Saharan African cities would die through pollution if just small changes like using cleaner fuels were made to air quality, says a new study.

Researchers from Stanford University and the University of California, San Diego, investigated the link between breathable air pollutants and premature deaths in 30 countries across the African continent.

Combining satellite-based data which estimates airborne pollutant particles, they examined household survey data on the location and timing of almost a million infant births and deaths between 2001 and 2015.

Particulate matter

Writing in the journal Nature, the researchers concluded there was a ‘robust relationship’ between breathable particulate matter and infant mortality in what are some of the world’s poorest countries, Particulate matter is just one such air pollutant thought by experts to be the most harmful to human health.

They are tiny particles suspended in the air, including dust and black carbon which are produced as a result of processes like fossil fuel and biomass burning. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has long since said that air pollution contributes to the global burden of heart disease, lung cancer, as well as respiratory diseases such as asthma and pneumonia.

Policies and approaches

Sam Heft-Neal, one of the co-authors, said: “The principal sources of particulate matter differ across sub-Saharan Africa. As such, policies and approaches to reducing pollution may be most appropriately undertaken at the local and regional scale. In booming urban areas, many of the relevant technologies and policies are the same ones that have been applied in more developed economies: moving away from coal to cleaner feed stocks for electric power production, putting particulate filters on buses and trucks, and reducing traffic congestion.”

Fellow author Jos Lelieveld, interviewed online for Nature, added: “One of the conclusions is also that, you know, with modest decreases of air pollution, one can achieve at least the improvement in health burden or disease burden in Africa that has been invested for other diseases. Air pollution is something that needs to be put higher up the agenda, because actually with relatively little means one can already do a lot.

Author: Simon Weedy

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