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by Medtronic LABS

Understanding how air pollution contributes to rising NCD rates

In our most recent blog, we addressed the real and tangible ways climate change affects public health, particularly in low to middle-income countries (LMIC).

From floods that disrupt access to care to increased incidence of food and water-borne illness linked to hotter and longer summers, the toll on human health from climate change is far-reaching.

At Medtronic LABS, we are committed to bringing equitable, quality health care to underserved communities that bear the brunt of climate change’s destruction. 

Through our cross-sector collaborations and leading tech-enabled solutions, lasting change is within reach, and we already see measurable results.

But, every day, we face new and unforeseen challenges. 

Recent research has uncovered a connection between air pollution (a leading cause of climate change) and non-communicable diseases (NCDs). 

The pollutants in the air we breathe can wreak havoc on more than just our respiratory systems and are now known to cause cardiovascular and kidney diseases, as well as diabetes.

The solution is simple: reduce the number of pollutants we put in the air. 

But in LMICs, where industry plays a critical economic role, clean, renewable energy sources are not always accessible.

Understanding the link

With 9 out of 10 people on the planet currently breathing polluted air, the connection between air pollution and respiratory illnesses is logical and widely accepted. 

Meanwhile, nearly 3.5 million people die each year from heart disease caused by air pollution, yet this is still not common knowledge.

“Knowledge of the impact of air pollution on cardiovascular health, although scientifically established, remains certainly underestimated by a significant proportion of general and specialized physicians as well as by other healthcare professionals.”

Dr. David Carbalho, cardiologist at University Hospital of Geneva and spokesperson for the European Society of Cardiology

The number of global deaths from air pollution each year is 7 million, of which a staggering 5 million are caused by NCDs.

Most of these deaths are in LMICs and, in addition to industrial pollution, can be attributed to household pollutants commonly used for heat, cooking, and light.

“Air pollution is a threat to health in all countries but hits people in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) the hardest.”

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, World Health Organization, Director-General

The biggest concern with exposure to air pollution is particulate matter or PM—particularly PM2.5—which enters our lungs and bloodstream.

PM2.5 then inflames the lungs, arteries, and heart, which triggers various health problems, such as blood clotting and strokes, damaged lung tissue, and reduced capacity to fight infection.

The problem is magnified when we factor in the effects of climate change. Pollution from industry and gas-powered vehicles are at the core of the climate crisis we all face. In addition to the devastating floods we have seen in countries like Pakistan, the opposite is also incredibly problematic—extreme heat and prolonged droughts. 

These conditions lead to increased dust storms and wildfires. The result is more and more regions of the world, from Africa to North America, Australia, and more, are more frequently breathing PM from fires on top of pollution from fossil fuels.

Tangible solutions from the ground up

The good news is that considerable and substantiated evidence exists for real solutions to NCDs caused by air pollution.

For example, the indoor smoking ban in Ireland led to a near-immediate 26% drop in heart disease. 

Also, the 1970s Clean Air act in the United States saw a decrease in several diseases and is attributed to a 259% increase in economic productivity.

“The responsibility for combatting pollution does not rest with national governments alone, but must also be an international endeavor with crucial roles for civil society, the private sector, international organizations, and the donor community.”

The Rockefeller Foundation on the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution (GAHP)

Working together to solve the climate crisis and the diseases it causes is less daunting than it may seem.

Our steadfast commitment to cross-sector collaboration is at the core of Medtronic LABS’s vision. 

Through our technological innovations, we continue to bring healthcare innovations and much-needed treatment to underserved communities in LMICs.

We are well-positioned to continue to be a central figure in healthcare delivery and on-the-ground response to global health crises caused by climate change.

If you too believe that the time to act is now to course-correct on air pollution, climate change, and the senseless disease and death they cause worldwide, get in touch with us today.

It takes a village to bring about change, and together we can be a force for good for the world’s most vulnerable and underserved populations.

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