Stanford study finds poor air quality responsible for one in five infant deaths in sub‑Saharan Africa
Satellite measurements of air quality across sub-Saharan Africa revealed small improvements in air quality could be one of the most effective interventions to curb infant mortality rates.
June 27, 2018 | By Michelle Horton | Stanford News
In 2015, exposure to particulate matter in sub-Saharan Africa led to 400,000 otherwise preventable infant deaths, according to a new Stanford study. The research, published this week in Nature, finds that even modest improvements in air quality could lead to substantial reductions in infant mortality in developing countries.
“Many wealthy countries have recently used legislation to clean up their air,” said Marshall Burke, study co-author and assistant professor of Earth system science in the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences at Stanford. “We find that if countries in Africa could achieve reductions in particulate matter exposure similar to wealthy countries, the benefits to infant health could be larger than nearly all currently used health interventions, such as vaccinations or food and water supplements.”
Led by Sam Heft-Neal, a research scholar at Stanford’s Center on Food Security and the Environment, the research team combined 15 years of survey data on nearly 1 million births across sub-Saharan Africa with satellite-based measurements of particulate matter, an important contributor to poor air quality. The mixture of microscopic particles in the air can cause serious health effects when inhaled.
“We know that breathing dirty air is bad for your health,” said Heft-Neal. “But in developing countries in particular, we don’t yet know how big a threat poor air quality is relative to other common health risks like poor nutrition and infectious disease.”
Understanding the impact of poor air quality in developing countries has traditionally been difficult, as most do not have on-the-ground pollution monitors or vital registration data recording birth outcomes. To overcome these constraints, the research team compiled data from 65 household surveys across 30 sub-Saharan African countries spanning from 2001 to 2015. Using new satellite-based measures of ambient particulate matter, they then compared the particulate matter each infant was exposed to while in utero and after birth. From this, they could relate exposure to particulate matter with health outcomes.
“The results were sobering,” said Burke. “We find that mortality rates are substantially higher for infants exposed to higher levels of particulate matter.”
The researchers found that high particulate matter concentrations were responsible for 22 percent of infant deaths from 2001 to 2015. They also found that this number has not decreased over the past 15 years and remains unchanged even in wealthier households.
The group’s estimate of the effect of particulate matter exposure on mortality is about three times larger than existing estimates, suggesting poor air quality is an even bigger problem than currently believed. The main explanation for these larger estimates, according to the study’s authors, is that exposure to particulate matter can lead to a range of negative health effects, including lower birth weight and impaired growth in the first year of life, beyond those typically considered in health analyses.
One of the study’s most important implications is that relatively small decreases in particulate matter concentrations could result in major reductions in mortality.
The researchers conclude that finding cost-effective ways to reduce particulate matter exposure should be a research and policy priority. “We now have a better sense of the immense benefits of air quality improvements for infant health,” said Heft-Neal. “Next we need to establish how these improvements can be achieved.”
Additional co-authors include Jennifer Burney, a fellow at the Center on Food Security and the Environment and an associate professor at the University of California, San Diego, School of Global Policy and Strategy, and Eran Bendavid, an associate professor of medicine at Stanford, member of the Child Health Research Institute and an affiliate of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. Burke is also a fellow at the Center on Food Security and the Environment, the Stanford Woods Institute and the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, and the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research. The research was supported by the Stanford Environmental Venture Projects program and the National Science Foundation.
This article was created and published by Stanford News, visit the article on their website.
Video by Stanford Center on Food Security and the Environment
A new Stanford study shows that improving air quality in sub-Saharan Africa could provide benefits to infant health larger than nearly all currently used health interventions, such as vaccinations or food and water supplements.
"Pollution responsible for one-fifth of infant deaths in sub-Saharan Africa" featured in Nature International Journal of Science (podcast)
- Is the MPP the right degree for me?
- Through knowledge we gain understanding
- Mapping a cleaner San Diego
- A day in the life of a NCAA Woman of the Year Honoree
- Nirupama Rao defines the future of Indo-Pacific relations
- Winter reading for the bibliophile
- Alumni nominated spotlight: Booz Allen Hamilton consultant Maura Deignan
- Leading from the front
- Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies expands research on drug war and migrant crisis
- A marriage of policy and advocacy
- Decarbonizing the grid
- Sylff Fellows translate vision into reality
- Stanford study finds poor air quality responsible for one in five infant deaths in sub‑Saharan Africa
- Office hours: Associate Professor Jennifer Burney
- Class of 2018 graduates embody global citizenry and leadership
- Science Policy Fellows program nurtures effective interdisciplinary scholars
- Building cross-border relationships
- Geoengineering a greener future
- Sponsored Student Spotlight: Adnan Saygili
- Celebrating academic excellence
- Painting the picture of an MPP student’s day
- Gregory Lee looks at the future of digital health and technology
- A sustainable seafood hero
- Pass the pen: Alumnae nominated spotlight
- Campus recognizes alumni as leaders and changemakers
- Innovation in mobile technology
- Ian Johnson chronicles the rise of religion in China
- Writing the book on China’s economic policy
- Broadening horizons through international experience at BCG
- Office hours: Professor Gordon McCord
- New evening option for working professionals
- China's infrastructure investment as a development strategy
- Rethinking the war on drugs in Mexico
- Creating theoretical frameworks
- Nurturing future leaders at TechPolis
- The future is female
- Jamal Russell Black on Veridian Analytics' entrepreneurial spirit
- Love is in the air
- A day in the life of an MCEPA student
- Health and human capital
- Eduardo Porter finds journalistic inspiration at GPS
- Technology assessment at the nexus of STEM and policy
- IGCC receives coveted UC research grant
- Battery storage at the center of energy policy
- Researching how humans and the environment interact
- Office hours: Professor Ulrike Schaede
- Fighting wildfires with web based imagery
- United we dream
- Our 2017-2018 Boren Fellows
- Applying game theory to study behaviors
- Students craft views on climate change at COP23
- Molding future technical experts
- Why GPS: A niche in life
- The art of entrepreneurship
- Solar energy and pursuing the policy dream
- Social entrepreneur and first time author Ken Davenport ’90 of “The Two Gates”
- Why GPS: Discovering a passion for all things math
- Our 2017-18 Dean’s Fellows
- A Living, Learning Laboratory
- A ‘Prep Program’ for success, before day one
- Office hours: Professor Gordon Hanson
- Adding to a truly interdisciplinary academic environment
- Why GPS: Apply now and figure it out later
- Sponsored Student Spotlight: Noritoshi Kurokawa
- West Coast-Trained for a Washington, D.C. Think Tank
- Linked in Latin America
- Facilitating a ‘family affair’
- Nico Ravanilla retreats to Oxford for research
- 2016 alumni remember their first year in the real world
- Pioneering international excellence
- Research at the border: A living laboratory of transformation