In particular, the new data reveal a stronger link between both indoor and outdoor air pollution exposure and cardiovascular diseases, such as strokes and ischaemic heart disease, as well as between air pollution and cancer. This is in addition to air pollution’s role in the development of respiratory diseases, including acute respiratory infections and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases.
The new estimates are not only based on more knowledge about the diseases caused by air pollution, but also upon better assessment of human exposure to air pollutants through the use of improved measurements and technology. This has enabled scientists to make a more detailed analysis of health risks from a wider demographic spread that now includes rural as well as urban areas.
Regionally, low- and middle-income countries in the WHO South-East Asia and Western Pacific Regions had the largest air pollution-related burden in 2012, with a total of 3.3 million deaths linked to indoor air pollution and 2.6 million deaths related to outdoor air pollution.
Cleaning up the air we breathe prevents noncommunicable diseases as well as reduces disease risks among women and vulnerable groups, including children and the elderly,” says Dr Flavia Bustreo, WHO Assistant Director-General Family, Women and Children’s Health. “Poor women and children pay a heavy price from indoor air pollution since they spend more time at home breathing in smoke and soot from leaky coal and wood cook stoves.”
Included in the assessment is a breakdown of deaths attributed to specific diseases, underlining that the vast majority of air pollution deaths are due to cardiovascular diseases as follows:-
Outdoor air pollution-caused deaths – breakdown by disease:
40% – ischaemic heart disease;
40% – stroke;
11% – chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD);
6% - lung cancer; and
3% – acute lower respiratory infections in children.
Indoor air pollution-caused deaths – breakdown by disease:
34% - stroke;
26% - ischaemic heart disease;
22% - COPD;
12% - acute lower respiratory infections in children; and
6% - lung cancer.
WHO estimates indoor air pollution was linked to 4.3 million deaths in 2012 in households cooking over coal, wood and biomass stoves. In the case of outdoor air pollution, WHO estimates there were 3.7 million deaths in 2012 from urban and rural sources worldwide.
The release of today’s data is a significant step in advancing a WHO roadmap for preventing diseases related to air pollution. This involves the development of a WHO-hosted global platform on air quality and health to generate better data on air pollution-related diseases and strengthened support to countries and cities through guidance, information and evidence about health gains from key interventions.