One of the major reasons for low weight among newborns in rural India was the continuous exposure of pregnant women to indoor air pollution, according to doctors.
Doctors have said indoor air pollution caused by the ‘chulhas’ — burning wood, coal and animal dung as fuel — was the major factor behind the occurrence of a slew of diseases, including respiratory diseases among women.
They said that apart from low birth weight, the continuous exposure of pregnant women to air pollution can also lead to brain deformity, asthma and improper growth among newborns.
“For a woman, the time between conception and birth is perhaps one of the most vital life stages.
“If a pregnant woman is exposed to too much of air pollution, carbon monoxide in the air causes interference in the passage of oxygen — which leads to oxygen insufficiency and hence results in low birth weight or even death,” said Bandita Sinha, an obstetrics and gynaecology specialist at Apollo Hospital and Fortis.
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As per data released by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), 500,000 lives are lost in India every year due to indoor air pollution. Most of them are women and children.
The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) recently said that one of its focus areas in 2016-17 will be to raise awareness among rural women regarding the use of electricity or LPG stoves, in a bid to curb indoor air pollution.
Stating that women mostly have to stay indoors during pregnancy, Sinha said the smoke caused by cooking gas also makes newborns prone to catching diseases like pneumonia after birth because of a weak immune system caused by indoor air pollution.
Nilesha Chitre, gynaecologist at SRV Hospital, said, “People in rural parts of the country have to understand that the total suspended particles present inside a kitchen have a thousand times greater chance to penetrate deep into the lungs than the suspended particles outside. Women are constantly exposed to chulha smoke in India due to several cultural mindsets. There have been various cases where due to the continuous exposure to indoor air pollution, the nervous system of newborns also gets damaged. The pollutants are extremely poisonous for newborns, even leading to deaths.”