(Michael Brauer is a Director at Bridge Programme and Professor at University of British Columbia.)
In the past few years we have come to understand just how devastating air pollution is to the health of the Indian population.
In the Global Burden of Disease we identified outdoor air pollution as the seventh leading cause of diseases in India, responsible for more than 600,00 deaths per year. Air pollution kills by triggering heart attacks and strokes, and contributing to the development of lung cancer and chronic lung disease and worsening respiratory infections such as pneumonia.
Yet its impacts do not stop there - we now understand that air pollution leads also to low birth weight and premature babies and also see links to diabetes and even mental health. One of the important reasons for the devastating impacts of air pollution is that everyone is exposed - while we may be able to choose to eat a healthy diet, to be physically active and to not smoke, we cannot choose not to breathe.
Yet this same feature also provides enormous opportunities - cleaning up the air benefits everyone, leading to massive health improvements. What's more, we know how to improve the air and evidence from the US and elsewhere show that doing so is very cost effective. So, how to get started? First, we can no longer hide from the facts - air pollution should be treated as the major health issue that it is.
Its impacts may not make for dramatic headlines but it is a slow and silent killer. Second, take the best examples from the toolboxes of approaches applied elsewhere - vehicle exhaust standards and inspection and maintenance programs, clean fuels and energy sources, eliminating waste burning, promoting public transport and safe of walking and cycling, and adapt them to Delhi. Third, measure the results. In the meantime, there is little that individuals can do to protect themselves but we know that reducing other risk factors - diet, physical activity, stress, and smoking - will also reduce the impacts of air pollution.
For those who can afford them, room air filters are also effective and some studies suggest that diets high in antioxidants can also provide some protection. Yet, nothing should stand in the way of reducing air pollution so that everyone can benefit.
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