THE finding of a research published in the Lancet in January saying that air pollution has a huge bearing on pregnancy loss, which includes stillbirth and miscarriage, is gravely worrying. The research says that air pollution might have accounted for 29 per cent of the pregnancy loss in Bangladesh — which was listed as the most polluted country for fine particle exposure in the 2019 World Air Quality Report — India and Pakistan. The research surveyed 34,197 women of the region who suffered pregnancy loss, which includes 27,480 events of miscarriage and 6,717 events of stillbirth. The research establishes 77 per cent of the pregnancy loss to have taken place in India, 12 per cent in Pakistan and 11 per cent in Bangladesh. It says that about 178 million, or 25.5 per cent, of 698 million children born globally in 2010–2015 were born in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh and 9,17,800, or 35.0 per cent, of 26,20,000 stillbirth took place in the three countries. The actual threat could be higher as the research is said not to have dealt with the under-reporting of pregnancy loss because of either social stigma or the ignoring of the pregnancy loss that took place in early gestational stages.
A situation like this provides for a compelling reason for Bangladesh singly, and along with other neighbours regionally, to attend to the issue of air pollution which has persistently made the headlines but the government has so far mostly given a short shrift to. Bangladesh, named as the most polluted country in the 2019 World Air Quality Report published in 2020, had an average fine particle or particulate matter 2.5 of 83.30 micrograms a cubic metre in air in 2019 while particulate matter 2.5 of less than 12 micrograms a cubic metre is considered good although the World Health Organisation aims that the countries should achieve particulate matter 2.5 of less than 10 micrograms a cubic metre. An exposure to particulate matter 2.5 is said to be reducing the life expectancy of the population of the region. In the event of such threat and risks, the High Court in January 2020 issued nine directives for the government to curb air pollution in Dhaka. The government was directed to shut down brick kilns in and around the capital, ban vehicles that served out their shelf life and emit black smoke and make owners of markets, shops and houses develop a waste collection system of their own. The court in November 2020 also asked the relevant authorities to submit reports on the steps taken in compliance with the nine directives, which have largely been left ignored.
With a high risk for public health by way of reduced life expectancy having already been there, the associated burden of pregnancy loss as has come up in the research published in the Lancet provides further justification for urgent action to tackle the dangerous level of air pollution, not just in the capital Dhaka but all over the country, especially in industrial regions. The government must, therefore, get down to containing air pollution without delay and make its relevant agencies, especially the environment department, behave accordingly.
Want stories like this in your inbox?
Sign up to exclusive daily email
More Stories from Editorial