Dr Maria Neira, Director, Public Health, Environment and Social Determinants of Health Department (PHE), World Health Organization, has urged governments to refrain from giving subsidies to fossil fuels. “As a health professional, I have seen first hand what air pollution does to our bodies, to our lungs, and to our brains. Polluted air, largely caused by the burning of fossil fuels, affects almost all major organs in our bodies. It is responsible for the premature death of over 1 million Indians every year, and brings huge healthcare costs to Indian families and the economy,” Dr Neira said.
Dr Neira was giving the keynote address at the inauguration of a virtual event on air pollution. Organised by Doctors for Clean Air, a pan-India network of doctors advocating clean air, the event was a first of its kind full-day conclave by doctors on air pollution on the occasion of the United Nations’ first ‘International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies’.
Air pollution causes over 7 million premature deaths across the world, with 1.2 million people in India alone. Long term exposure to indoor and ambient (outdoor) air pollution in the country is found to be linked to nearly 5 million deaths from non-communicable diseases like stroke, diabetes, heart attack, lung cancer, chronic lung diseases (State of Global Air 2019 published by Health Effects Institute). Recent research from across the world also suggests a strong link between air pollution and Covid-19.
The virtual event was organized jointly by seven national medical associations, which recognize the importance of clean air for human health and represent over 130,000 doctors: Federation of Obstetric & Gynaecological Society of India (FOGSI), Indian Academy of Paediatrics (IAP), Indian Chest Society (ICS), Cardiological Society of India (CSI), Indian Academy of Neurology (IAN) supported by Association of Surgeons of India (ASI) and Medical Students Association of India (MSAI).
Dr Arvind Kumar, Founder and Managing Trustee of the Lung Care Foundation, said: “Air pollution not only has long-term health impact on us but also makes people living in polluted cities more vulnerable to infectious diseases such as Covid-19 by reducing their immunity and damaging their organs. We must focus on having clean air for the health and wellbeing of our citizens and future generations.”
Presidents of 7 specialty national medical associations, representing over 130,000 doctors, shared research linking air pollution and health.
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