New Delhi: One in ten deaths in children across the world is being caused by air pollution, according to a World Health Organization (WHO) report.

Air pollution and child health: Prescribing clean air, released on Monday, stated as many as 6 lakhs children died from acute lower respiratory infections (ALRI) caused by polluted air in 2016, accounting for almost 10% of all child deaths that year. Of these, at least 5.4 lakh were children under the age of 5 years.

“Polluted air is poisoning millions of children and ruining their lives," says Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.

The report highlights that after premature birth, ALRI is the leading killer of children under 5 years worldwide. And over half of all deaths from ALRI in low and middle-income countries are caused by breathing polluted air.

Globally, 93% of all children live in environments with air pollution levels above the WHO guidelines. India, with 14 out of 20 of the worlds’s most polluted cities in the world, stands as one of the most vulnerable countries.

According to WHO, pollution related mortality and disease burden is one of the highest in India, which accounts for 25% of the global deaths due to air pollution. In 2016, as many as 1 lakh children deaths under the age of 5 years in India were caused due to polluted air.

“Air pollution is stunting our children’s brains, affecting their health in more ways than we suspected," says Maria Neira, Director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health, WHO.

Health experts highlight that one reason why children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of air pollution is that they breathe more rapidly than adults and so absorb more pollutants.

Pregnant women living in polluted cities are more prone to pregnancy issues, including premature births. A recent study presented at the European Respiratory Society International Congress held in Paris also found evidence of tiny carbon particles in placenta for the first time, highlighting the alarming impact that air pollution could have on unborn babies.

Pollution not only triggers asthma but childhood cancer and can impact neuro-development and cognitive abilities. Children who have been exposed to high levels of air pollution may be at greater risk to chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease later in life.

“Children have a longer life expectancy than adults, so latent disease mechanisms have more time to emerge and affect their health. A child who is exposed to unsafe levels of pollution early in life can thus suffer a ‘life sentence’ of illness," stated the report.

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