Polluted air killing half a million babies a year across globe

Air pollution last year caused the premature death of nearly half a million babies in their first month of life, with most of the infants being in the developing world, data shows.

a hand holding a baby: Photograph: Angela Hampton Picture Library/Alamy Stock Photo

© Provided by The Guardian
Photograph: Angela Hampton Picture Library/Alamy Stock Photo

Exposure to airborne pollutants is harmful also for babies in the womb. It can cause a premature birth or low birth weight. Both of these factors are associated with higher infant mortality.

Nearly two-thirds of the 500,000 deaths of infants documented were associated with indoor air pollution, particularly arising from solid fuels such as charcoal, wood, and animal dung for cooking.

The discovery is reported in the State of Global Air 2020 report, which examined data on deaths around the world alongside a growing body of research that links air pollution with health problems.

Medical experts have warned for years of the impacts of dirty air on older people and on those with health conditions, but are only beginning to understand the deadly toll on babies in the womb.

Katherine Walker, principal scientist at the Health Effects Institute, which published the report, said: “We don’t totally understand what the mechanisms are at this stage, but there is something going on that is causing reductions in baby growth and ultimately birth weight. There is an epidemiological link, shown across multiple countries in multiple studies.”

a hand holding a baby: Premature baby. Exposure in the womb to air contaminants can cause pre-term births and low birth weight, experts say.

© Photograph: Angela Hampton Picture Library/Alamy Stock Photo
Premature baby. Exposure in the womb to air contaminants can cause pre-term births and low birth weight, experts say.

Babies born with a low birth weight are more susceptible to childhood infections and pneumonia. The lungs of pre-term babies can also not be fully developed.

“They are born into a high pollution environment, and are more susceptible than children who went to term,” said Dan Greenbaum, president of the Health Effects Institute in the US.

Beate Ritz, professor of epidemiology at UCLA, (University of California, Los Angeles), who was not involved with the study, said the indoor air pollution in cities across India, south-east Asia and Africa was comparable to that of Victorian London.

“This is not the air pollution we see in modern cities [in the rich world] but that which we had 150 years ago in London and other places, where there were coal fires indoors. Indoor air pollution has not been at the forefront for policymakers, but it should be,” Ritz said.

She pointed out that the harm to children went beyond the deaths; reducing air pollution would also lessen harm to survivors. “There is also damage to the brain and other organs from this pollution, so just surviving is not enough – we need to reduce air pollution because of the impact on all these organs too,” she said.

Some of these effects are likely to have existed, unnoticed, for centuries, as people have long cooked upon fires in enclosed spaces, an activity that causes particulate matter to be breathed in, particularly by women and children, who spend more time in

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Covid is accelerating across the globe as U.S. and Europe head into flu season

Members of the medical personnel move a patient suffering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the CHR Centre Hospitalier Regional de la Citadelle hospital, in Liege, Belgium October 20, 2020.

Yves Herman | Reuters

The coronavirus pandemic is accelerating across the globe as U.S. cases climb and at least 10 other countries, half in Europe, report record highs in average daily new cases.

Argentina, Canada, France, Germany, Iran, Italy, Russia, Spain, Ukraine and the United Kingdom all hit record highs in average daily new Covid-19 cases on Monday, according to a CNBC analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University. Figures are based on a weekly average to smooth out fluctuations in daily reporting. Iran, Russia and Ukraine each hit record highs for deaths, Hopkins data shows.

When adjusting for population, the number of new infections in Europe has now overtaken that in the United States, with Europe reporting 231 new Covid-19 cases per 1 million people, based on a seven-day average, compared with 177 new Covid-19 cases per 1 million people in the U.S. Overall, Europe, which includes 27 European Union countries and the UK, is seeing nearly 120,000 new cases per day, Hopkins data shows.

In the United States, cases are also accelerating. New daily U.S. cases, as a seven-day average, totaled 58,397 on Monday, almost 18% higher than last week’s levels, according to Hopkins data. Cases are growing by at least 5% in 35 states, with 16 states reporting record high averages in daily cases Monday, according to the data. The U.S. still has the worst outbreak in the world with more than 8.2 million cases.

President Donald Trump, who tested positive for the virus earlier this month, has repeatedly insisted that the U.S. has more cases than any other country because the nation tests more people. But health officials and infectious disease experts dispute that claim, saying the rate of positive tests in the U.S. and hospitalizations are high in some states.

The overall U.S. positivity rate, or the percentage of Covid-19 tests that come back positive, is at 5.3%, according to Hopkins. Wisconsin, which hit a record high in average daily cases Monday, has a positivity rate of 12.6%. Kansas, another state that hit a new high, has a positivity rate of 19.4%, according to the tracker.

Additionally, Covid-19 hospitalizations were growing by 5% or more in 36 states Monday, according to a CNBC analysis of data collected by the Covid Tracking Project. Eleven states hit record highs in hospitalizations. The increase in hospitalizations could be especially dire as flu season approaches and more people seek treatment, medical experts warn.

“We are clearly in the second wave in many parts of the Northern Hemisphere and we really need to have more control of this infection at the community level,” said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist and professor at the University of Toronto.

Bogoch, also a member of the data and safety monitoring board, an independent group of experts that oversees U.S. clinical trials, said

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