Menace of air pollution causing preterm births in Pakistan

According to a study, over six million babies are born globally before gestation and three million are underweight every year

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Air pollution has become one of the major causes of preterm births around the world, including Pakistan, revealed a study conducted by the Institute of Global Health at the University of California, San Francisco, on Tuesday.

Shocking facts in the report stated that air pollution caused up to six million premature births and three million underweight babies worldwide every year.

Many studies have already revealed that there is a strong connection between the air quality expectant mothers are exposed to and poor pregnancy outcomes like preterm birth, low birth weight, and infant mortality.

Rakesh Ghosh, the author of the new study, states that air pollution impacts multiple aspects of pregnancy, including gestation length, birth weight, premature birth, and post-birth weight loss.

“With this new, global and more rigorously generated evidence, air pollution should now be considered a major driver of infant morbidity and mortality, not just of chronic adult diseases,” said Ghosh.

While suggesting a solution he said, “Taking measures to mitigate climate change and reduce air pollution levels will have significant health co-benefit for newborns.”

In recent years, air pollution has become a major challenge for nations globally. According to a World Health Organization (WHO) report, over 92 percent of the world population lives in areas highly exposed to outdoor pollution, while at least 49 percent are exposed to indoor pollution.

Earlier in Pakistan, preterm births were not attributed to poor air quality, but in recent years, many studies and experts have warned about the growing menace of air pollution.

“Air pollution has now become the major cause among other factors in premature birth in Pakistan,” said Dr. Tanzeela, a gynaecologist at Sheikh Zayed Hospital.

She further emphasized that premature births were typically attributed to the unhygienic atmosphere provided to pregnant women, but in recent years deteriorating air quality had overcome other factors.

“Exposure to air pollution causes lungs and cardiovascular problems in pregnant women, which in turn may cause birth before gestation period,” she said.

Dr. Tanzeela emphasized there is a serious need to educate parents and families to provide pregnant women with good care and a clean atmosphere.

A UNICEF report in 2019 stated that around 860,000 preterm births are recorded every year in Pakistan, while around 102,000 children die due to related complications.

“Preterm births are one of the leading causes of death of children under five years of age. Globally, fifteen million babies are born before time each year and over 1 million children die before their fifth birthday,” says UNICEF.

The same study, which was the first to calculate the total global burden of outdoor and indoor air pollution, later combined the result of different studies conducted in recent years in this regard.

The study states that air pollution is usually measured according to exposure to particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns. Once inhaled, the minuscule size of these particles allows them to be absorbed deep into the bloodstream, potentially causing far-reaching health problems.

Environmentalist Sardar Aasif Sial said, “Air pollution levels have transformed into a direr health emergency than smoking, tuberculosis, and unsafe water and sanitation, due to these small particles.”

Samiullah Randhawa is a correspondent covering environment, climate change, food, water and ecology. He is an International Center For Journalists alumnus and a fellow at Kettering Foundation Ohio, USA. He has won two Agahi Awards for reporting on climate change and water crisis. He tweets @sami_randhawa and can be reached at