‘91% deaths of preterm babies in low and middle-income nations due to air pollution’
New Delhi: High income countries make the greatest contribution to climate change but the people who have contributed least to the crisis are the most hit, with 91 per cent deaths of preterm babies related to air pollution occurring in low and middle income nations, says a report by UN agencies.
The recently released ‘Born Too Soon: Decade of Action on Preterm Birth’ report by WHO, UNICEF and Partnership for Maternal New Born and Child Health highlights myriad impacts of climate change both direct and indirect on pregnancy resulting in stillbirths, preterm birth and small for gestational age.
Climate change impacts pregnancy through heat exposure, storms, floods, drought, wildfires and air pollution besides in terms of food insecurity, water or food borne diseases, vector borne diseases, migration, conflict and health system resilience, according to experts.
The report suggested more investment is needed to specifically mitigate risks and to increase focus on women and babies in policies and programmes addressing the climate emergency.
Air pollution is estimated to contribute to six million preterm births each year.
“Vulnerability to climate change is a multi-dimensional, dynamic phenomenon shaped by intersecting historical and contemporary political, economic and cultural processes of marginalisation. Societies with high levels of inequity are less resilient to climate change,” said Dr Ana Bonell from Medical Research Unit at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM).
According to the report, climate change has a harmful impact during the perinatal period. It increases the risk of preterm birth by direct pathways, such as air pollution caused by burning fossil fuels which increases risk by 52 per cent in asthmatic mothers; extreme heat exposure which increases risk by 16 per cent and other extreme weather events, such as drought.
“Although the impacts of climate change are being felt in all areas of the world, the people most affected have contributed least to the crisis. For example, globally, 91 per cent of deaths of preterm babies related to air pollution occur in low and middle income countries, while high income countries make the greatest contribution to climate change,” the report said.
Recent estimates suggest that household air pollution was an attributable factor for 15.6 per cent of all low-birth-weight babies and 35.7 per cent of all preterm births, notably in low-income countries, it pointed out.
A study on 92 pregnant women in Gambia by LSHTM showed that every extra degree Celsius in extreme heat stress caused a 17 per cent increase in strain on the foetus, specifically by raising fetal heart rate and slowing blood flow through the umbilical cord.
Another study showed a macro-level association between climate change vulnerability and women and children’s health (WCH) at the district level in India, as districts that had high levels of climate change vulnerability also performed poorly in WCH.