Air pollution linked to millions of deaths from heart disease and strokes

Millions of people are dying every year from heart disease and strokes, which can be linked to air pollution, according to a new study.

The study by the World Heart Foundation (2024 WHF) warns air pollution is now “the single greatest environmental health risk” with half of the nearly 7 million deaths every year to air pollution are from cardiovascular conditions.

According to the study, this means as many as 1.9 million are dying every year from heart disease and just under a million from strokes due to outdoor air pollution alone.

The study also showed the number of deaths from heart disease attributable to air pollution has increased in some regions by as much as 27 per cent over the past decade.

In Southeast Asia, Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean, air pollution concentrations are nearly 10 times higher than recommended.

A recent report by Ghana’s Birth and Death Registry revealed that aside from hypertension, pneumonia and heart failure were the two diseases that killed more men than women in 2022.

The report noted that 1,440 men died of pneumonia, while 1,017 females, perished due the same conditions.

It also indicated that 1,347 men died of heart failure, while 879 women died of the condition. 

Acute Respiratory Failure, Stroke, Septic Shock, Severe Sepsis, Diabetes, Chronic Liver Disease, and Cerebrovascular diseases were the remaining ailments identified as causes of death among Ghanaian men and women.

Expert in Ghana said some of the causes could be linked to air pollution but there was the need to conduct more empirical studies to know if it was the real cause.

Professor Adeladza Kofi Amegah, an Associate Professor of Environmental and Nutritional Epidemiology, at the University of Cape Coast called for more resources to gather data and conduct more research.

“We are in our small way buying low-cost sensors for instance to gather data to inform policy,” he said.

The 2024 WHF study said Africa with a population exceeding one billion and increasing urbanization in many countries, Africa faced a growing threat of air pollution and its resulting health impacts.

By 2035, half of Africa’s population was expected to live in urban settings, and Sub-Saharan Africa can host five of the world’s  41 megacities by 2030.

Africa faces significant challenges in addressing the consequences of air pollution, with distinct vulnerabilities at both population and individual levels, including socio-economic risk factors, limited access to quality healthcare, and the coexistence of chronic and infectious diseases.

Exacerbating this challenge is a scarcity of robust air quality monitoring data, with the partial data available revealing elevated air pollution levels in certain urban areas in Africa.

Where monitors exist in Africa, they do not always measure all air pollutants that are considered key to health.

While satellite estimates provide valuable data on key air pollutants in areas lacking ground monitors, these estimates have limitations, such as spatial resolution and assumptions that ground-level pollutants will reflect the column of air.

There is an urgent need to improve the quality of air pollution  monitoring and data gathering in Africa, as is needed for every region and country.

Enhanced air quality monitoring is essential to comprehensively understand the issue, design public health interventions, and implement sustainable practices to combat air pollution for protecting people’s health.

In 2019, over 1 million deaths in Sub-Saharan Africa were attributed to CVDs. Addressing air pollution monitoring gaps is a critical step to mitigating the future impact of pollution on cardiovascular health in the region.


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