Global Health Asia-Pacific Special Issue - Page 40

Polluted air linked to one million stillbirths a year

Medical News

Polluted air linked to one million stillbirths a year

Improved efforts are needed to prevent the death of many babies

Toxic air particles smaller than 2.5 microns ( PM2.5 ) are responsible for about one million stillborn babies every year , a global burden the UN calls a neglected tragedy , according to new research .

While air pollution was already known to increase the risk of stillbirth , a group of researchers at Peking University in China managed to crunch the staggering numbers in the first study of its kind , reported the Guardian .
Scientists analysed more than 45,000 stillbirths and live births across 137 countries in Asia , Africa , and Latin America , where 98 percent of stillbirths are recorded and the UN says progress to prevent them has slowed . As an example of its neglect , the issue was not included in the Millenium Development Goals or tracked by the Global Burden of Disease ( GBD ) study .
While the new study didn ’ t look into how air pollution leads to stillbirth , we know that toxic particles have been found in the lungs and brains of foetuses as well as in the placenta and are therefore associated with increased miscarriage , premature birth , and low birth weight . The researchers speculate that pollution particles might harm the developing foetus by passing through the placenta while also hampering the passage of oxygen from mother to foetus .
“ Meeting the World Health Organization ( WHO ) air quality targets could prevent a considerable number of stillbirths ,” said the scientists , led by Dr Tao Xue at Peking University in China , to the Guardian . “ Current efforts to prevent stillbirth focus on medical service improvements but compared to clinical risk factors , environmental ones are usually unseen .”
Almost all pregnant women in the study were exposed to particle levels higher than the five micrograms per cubic metre ( 5 μg / m3 ) recommended by the WHO .
“ Clean air policies , which have been enacted in some countries , such as China , can prevent stillbirths . In addition , personal protections against air pollution , i . e ., wearing masks , installing air purifiers , avoiding going outside when air pollution occurs could also protect vulnerable pregnant women ,” the researchers said .
Air pollution was responsible for particularly high proportions of stillbirth in China , Pakistan , Nigeria , and India . But the total number of stillbirths declined from 2.31 million in 2010 to 1.93 million in 2019 , with researchers positing that improvements in air pollution in countries like China played an important role . The scientists estimate that bringing air pollution down to 10 μg / m3 could prevent 710,000 stillbirths every year .
Though stillbirth rates are declining globally , there ’ s no such decline in roughly half the low-andmiddle-income countries analysed in the study , said the researchers , while the declining rate is slower compared to the drop in mortality for children under five years old . “ This suggests that efforts to promote maternal health are unequal for different adverse outcomes , and that interventions relevant to stillbirths are inadequate ,” they said .
“ Wearing masks , installing air purifiers , avoiding going outside when air pollution occurs could also protect vulnerable pregnant women .”
38 ISSUE 6 | 2022 GlobalHealthAsiaPacific . com