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Air pollution and noncommunicable diseases

Air pollution has long been linked to various health issues. Today, we’re going to take a closer look at a specific category of illnesses poor air quality is responsible for: noncommunicable diseases.

What are noncommunicable diseases?

Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) are also known as chronic diseases that result from a combination of genetic, physiological, behavioural, and environmental factors. They are not contagious or infections because they are not caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi. NCDs are responsible for 71% of deaths annually worldwide, which is equivalent to 41 million lives. The four main types of noncommunicable diseases are:

  • Cardiovascular diseases (17.9 million deaths annually)
  • Cancers (9.3 million deaths annually)
  • Respiratory diseases (4.1 million deaths annually)
  • Diabetes (1.5 million deaths annually)

Noncommunicable diseases disproportionately affect populations in low- and middle-income countries. These regions account for more than ¾ of global NCD deaths at 31.4 million and 82% of 16 million premature NCD deaths. Risk factors for NCDs include unhealthy diets, smoking, alcohol abuse, physical inactivity, and air pollution.

What is the link between noncommunicable diseases and air pollution?

Out of the 7 million annual deaths attributed to air pollution worldwide, 5 million are caused by NCDs. And according to the World Health Organization (WHO), air pollution is the second leading cause of deaths from noncommunicable diseases after tobacco smoking. In 2012, 2.8 and 3.7 million NCD deaths were a result of ambient and household air pollution respectively. To this end, developing countries are disproportionately affected by NCDs due to the use of polluting fuels for cooking, heating, and lighting. The main NCDs associated with air pollution are:

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD): 43% of worldwide cases were attributed to air pollution in 2016
  • Lung cancer: 28% of worldwide cases were attributed to air pollution in 2016
  • Ischaemic heart disease (IHD): 25% of worldwide cases were attributed to air pollution in 2016
  • Stroke: 24% of worldwide cases were attributed to air pollution in 2016

What can be done to reduce the risk of noncommunicable diseases?

Reducing air pollution exposure is the surefire way to lower the risk of noncommunicable diseases. To do so, awareness of when and where one is exposed to high levels of pollutants is critical. Hyperlocal real-time air quality data enables citizens to protect themselves by avoiding areas with the highest levels of pollution. An urban air quality network that monitors pollutant levels is the first step to achieving visibility on air pollution issues. Focus on transparency is imperative – air pollution is an issue that affects everyone. This is why Breeze Technologies offers a free-to-access air quality Citizen Portal, so that you can determine how clean the air is where you live, and air quality indexes (AQIs) can typically be found on your local environmental government website.

On top of this, governmental and policy actions that can be taken to combat household air pollution include:

  • Providing access to clean fuels and technologies for cooking, lighting, and heating
  • Prioritizing transition fuels and technologies with substantial health benefits to facilitate the switch to clean household energy
  • Building a larger innovating market ecosystem for clean and modern energy solutions by offering financial incentives and business models
  • Developing health-based national performance and safety standards for household energy fuels and technologies

Actions that can be taken to combat ambient (urban) air pollution include:

  • Developing and implementing efficient transport options
  • Providing pedestrian and cycling infrastructure
  • Improving land-use systems to reduce travel times
  • Regulating emission controls
  • Exploring green energy options

You can also do your part in clearing the air where you live. For more information on various air quality topics, their impact, and actions you can take, click here. To view Breeze Technologies’ urban air quality sensor network solution, click here.