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[ABUJA] Countries should implement strategies to reduce exposure to traffic-related pollution to help cut new cases of asthma in children, a study suggests.

According to the study, although pollution is a risk factor for increased cases of asthma in children, studies on global burden of diseases often fail to account for the potential influence of air pollution on asthma.

“By estimating the contribution of traffic pollution to paediatric asthma incidence worldwide, our study shows that the consequences of air pollution exposure for global public health are even more far reaching and potentially underestimated,” says Susan Anenberg, the corresponding author of the study and an associate professor of environmental and occupational health at the George Washington University in the United States.

“Our study shows that the consequences of air pollution exposure for global public health are even more far reaching and potentially underestimated.”

Susan Anenberg, George Washington University

The study published in the Lancet Planetary Health last week (10 April) shows that traffic-related air pollution is associated with four million new cases of childhood asthma every year globally, which form 13 per cent of the global burden of childhood asthma.

Researchers used NO2 (nitrogen dioxide) as a surrogate for traffic pollution and assessed its effects on new asthma cases in 2015 among children aged one to 18 years in 194 countries and 125 major cities.  

Anenberg tells SciDev.Net than air pollution is a top five risk factor affecting global public health but has not received much attention in regards to asthma.

According to the study, of the 125 major cities that were studied, the proportion of new asthma cases resulting from nitrous dioxide pollution “ranged from almost six per cent in Orlu, Nigeria to 48 per cent in Shanghai, China”.

“We estimated that about 92 per cent of paediatric asthma incidence attributable to NO2 exposure occurred in areas with annual average NO2 concentrations lower than the WHO guideline of 21 parts per billion,” the study adds. “Efforts to reduce NO2 exposure could help prevent a substantial portion of new paediatric asthma cases in both developed and developing countries, and especially in urban areas. Traffic emissions should be a target for exposure-mitigation strategies. Kingsley Agunu, a senior staff of the Sewage and Air Emission Division of the Department of Pollution Control and Environmental Health, Federal Ministry of Environment, Nigeria, says that the country has already put in place some policy measures such as reducing sulphur content in fuels and banning the importation of used cars that are more than 10 years old.

But Agunu explains that despite traffic pollution remaining a huge challenge in the country, the Nigerian government lacks the political will to address it.

Most worrisome is the fact that most Nigerians are ignorant of the dangerous effects of traffic pollution, he adds.
 
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.


References

Pattanun Achakulwisut and others Global, national, and urban burdens of paediatric asthma incidence attributable to ambient NO2 pollution: estimates from global datasets (Lancet Planetary Health, 10 April 2019)