A heart health score based on meeting the Life's Simple 7 was computed.IANS

For a large number of the population, air pollution is, at the most, the cause of respiratory and lifestyle illnesses, chronic allergies and maybe itching in the eyes or throat. However, not many perceive air pollution as the greatest single environmental health risk. A fact pointed out by World Heart Federation's World Heart Report 2024. The report underscores the urgent need to tackle air pollution and the threat it poses to public health and longevity.

While highlighting worsening levels of cardiovascular illness and deaths from air pollution, the report says that air pollution's greatest death toll is greatest on those with cardiovascular conditions. It says cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of deaths— more than 20 million deaths every year. In some regions, air pollution is ten times higher than recommended safe levels.

New Delhi--Pollution
New Delhi--Air PollutionIANS

Unless the governments step in

The impact of air pollution on heart diseases will lead to millions of preventable deaths every year unless governments introduce legislation to tackle the issues, the report further warns. The study finds that air quality levels have barely improved despite a range of measures recommended by the WHO and other agencies, leading to as many as 1.9 million dying every year from heart diseases and just under a million from strokes due to outdoor air pollution alone.

Air pollution comes from many sources, including transport, industry and wildfires, but the report also details how indoor air pollution poses a serious health risk. Launched at this year's World Heart Summit, the report reveals the extent of the health crisis caused by outdoor and indoor air pollution.

The countries most at risk

Air pollution is nearly ten times the recommended level in countries in Southeast Asia and the Eastern Mediterranean. The health inequalities stem based on the level of exposure and effect. Not many are acutely aware that tiny invisible particles in air pollution are affecting heart rhythm, blood clotting, the build-up of plaques in arteries and blood pressure, as well as adversely affecting respiratory diseases and other conditions across the body. The Western Pacific region saw the highest number of deaths from heart diseases and stroke due to outdoor air pollution with nearly 1 million deaths in 2019 and the Southeast Asian Region was a close second, with 762,000 deaths. In Southeast Asia, Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean, air pollution concentrations are nearly ten times higher than recommended. Countries facing some of the greatest challenges with air pollution include those in the Eastern Mediterranean, with Kuwait, Egypt, and Afghanistan having the highest levels of PM2.5 (fine particulate matter in the air). In Africa, the highest levels of PM2.5 were in Nigeria, Niger and Cameroon.

Outdoor and indoor air pollution

Energy efficiency measures in modern homes as part of net zero can make buildings more airtight and could increase the build-up of air pollutants. The report titled Clearing the Air to Address Pollution's Cardiovascular Health Crisis shows the sources of pollution and their effects on the heart and circulation. Beyond the smoke and smog that we can see, tiny invisible particles can get deep into the lungs, heart, and other organs.

Air pollution spares no one

Data from the report shows that more than half of the nearly 7 million deaths due to air pollution are from cardiovascular conditions (CVDs), a number that's been on the rise over the past decade. Already, cardiovascular diseases are the world's top killer, claiming more than 20 million lives each year. Even short-term exposure to air pollution can have many effects throughout the cardiovascular system, and long-term exposure worsens chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease and diabetes. Adverse effects are even seen on mental health, dementia and in pregnancy. Air Pollution is ubiquitous, sparing no one. Both outdoor and indoor pollution are driving deaths from cardiovascular disease which still claims the most lives every year. The impacts of air pollution from several sources add up, often widening gaps in healthcare for those also vulnerable to pollution, and worsening outcomes regardless of demographic," said Dr Mark Miller of the University of Edinburgh, and the WHF's Chair of the Air Pollution and Climate Change Expert Group.

Particles that damage air quality vary in composition and size, with PM 2.5 being the air pollutant most closely linked to detrimental health effects. The World Health Organisation recommends countries to not exceed 5 micrograms of PM 2.5 per cubic metre.

While the elderly, children, and those with a lung or heart condition are among those most susceptible to air pollution, short-and-long-term exposure affects everyone to varying degrees. Overall, lower-income countries have higher levels of stroke and ischemic heart disease mortality from both outdoor and household air pollution tha higher income countries.

Emphasizing today's visible impacts of air pollution, the new report urges action and targeted investments by governments, health and environmental decision-makers, and urban planners It highlights countries' efforts to reduce or mitigate air pollution with strong potential for yielding health and economic benefits, crucial steps given that the urban population is expected to reach nearly 6 million in the next two decades.