It is silent, deadly, and wide-reaching; it targets millions indiscriminately, but with brutal precision and efficiency. Affecting a staggering 90% of the global population, air pollution remains the leading environmental cause of death and disease.
“Six million people die every year because of poor air quality, yet too many governments are failing to address this problem as a public health crisis,” says Dr. Neil Schluger, Senior Advisor for Science at global health organization Vital Strategies. “Every day, clinicians see the harms of air pollution—people suffering with acute asthma, heart attacks, strokes and more. There’s a limit to what we can do to help individuals reduce their exposure to harmful air pollution.”
Air pollution: an ever-growing threat
If recent statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO) are any indication, the casualty count seems to be rapidly climbing. WHO notes that in 2016, approximately 4.2 million deaths in urban and rural areas worldwide were caused by ambient (outdoor) air pollution. Meanwhile, around 3.8 million premature deaths occurred as a result of illnesses attributable to household or indoor air pollution, largely from using open fires or simple kerosene, biomass (wood, animal and crop waste) and coal stoves.
At greater risk are low- to middle-income countries such as the Philippines, where air pollution regulations and control measures simply can’t keep up with fast-paced urban development. In fact, WHO’s 2016 report places the Philippines’ annual PM2.5 concentration — or the amount of particulate matter (PM) in the air microscopic enough to enter and damage our bodies — at twice the recommended safe level.
To address this, Vital Strategies and the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease launched Inspire, a coalition to empower clinicians, public health professionals and organizations.
Analyze and mobilize
As Dr. Schluger explains: “Inspire offers a framework for health advocates to push governments to address the root causes of air pollution and advocate for cleaner air policies. We have to mobilize because the problem is growing and the need for action is urgent.”
Aligned with WHO’s road map for enhanced global action on air pollution, Inspire’s main goals are to:
* Improve awareness in the global health community about air pollution, including health effects, sources, solutions, and individual harm-reduction measures;
* Increase involvement of clinicians and clinical organizations in advocacy for clean air policies;
* Establish a global network of informed health-oriented champions and speakers on air pollution and health;
* Grow public awareness of the dangers of air pollution; and
* Exert political pressure on governments to encourage aggressive clean air policies.
“Health professionals, with their detailed knowledge of the diseases associated with exposure to air pollution, have an important role to play in communicating the importance of exposure-mitigation strategies both to policymakers and to the public who need to pay for these strategies,” according to Professor Jonathan Grigg of the Queen Mary University of London. “Inspire aims to support local advocates with medical expertise in delivering this important message.”
Meanwhile, Elvis Ndikum Achiri, Advocacy Officer for the WHO Regional Office for Africa, champions the call to recognize clean air as a human right.”We have a right to breathe clean air and a right to know the quality of our air. Advocates are the voice of the people, especially the vulnerable at global and country level.”
- Official Vital Strategies press release.