Air Pollution in India: One in 8 deaths due to air pollution; life expectancy down by 1.7 years

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With the people being quite aware of the rampant menace of air pollution in India, but if facts have not shocked you till now; here’s something you need to know.

The India State-Level Disease Burden Initiative has carried out a comprehensive study on deaths, disease burden, and life expectancy reduction associated with air pollution in each state of India and the estimates have been published in The Lancet Planetary Health.

It has been estimated, “One in every eight deaths in India is attributable to air pollution which now contributes to more disease burden than smoking.

The key points revealed by the study are

  • India accounts for around 26 per cent of the global premature deaths and disease burden due to air pollution. This is disproportionately high because India only holds 18 per cent of the global population.
  • More than half of the 12.4 lakh deaths in India were of persons younger than 70 and this can be attributed to air pollution in 2017.
  • The average life expectancy in India would have been 1.7 years higher if the air pollution level were less than the minimal level causing health loss.
  • India has one of the highest annual average ambient particulate matter PM2·5 exposure levels in the world.
  • In 2017, no state in India had an annual population weighted ambient particulate matter mean PM2·5 less than the WHO recommended level of 10 μg/m³ i.e  45.
  • 77% of India’s population was exposed to mean PM2·5 more than 40 μg/m³, which is the recommended limit set by the National Ambient Air Quality Standards of India      ( PM 2.5 particles are those that are suspended in air and have a diameter lesser than 2.5 microns.)
  • There is a marked variation between the states, with a 12 times difference for ambient particulate matter pollution and 43 times difference for household air pollution.
  • States in north India had some of the highest levels of both ambient particulate matter and household air pollution, especially Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Jharkhand
  • Delhi, Haryana, and Punjab in north India had some of the highest ambient particulate matter pollution exposure in the country.

Dr Balram Bhargava, secretary health research said, “It is important to have robust estimates of the health impact of air pollution in every state of India in order to have a reference for improving the situation. Household air pollution is reducing in India, facilitated by the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana. There is increasing political momentum in India to address air pollution. The findings reported today systematically document the variations among states, which would serve as a useful guide for making further progress in reducing the adverse impact of air pollution in the country.”

“The India State-Level Disease Burden Initiative” is a joint initiative of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), and Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, along with experts and stakeholders associated with over 100 Indian institutions.

The research has lauded India’s achievements in cutting down smoking, but it also points out the popular association of air pollution only with respiratory diseases. In India, the disease burden because of air pollution also includes ischaemic heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and lung cancer, commonly associated with smoking.

Prof.Christopher Murray, Director, IHME, alarmed,”Air pollution in India causes not just lung disease, but also is a substantial contributing factor in cardiovascular disease and diabetes. As a result, there is enormous potential to reduce the burden of these non-communicable diseases by curbing air pollution across the country.”

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