Doctors, nurses and public health practitioners around the world have for decades been on the frontlines of dealing with the human fallout of air pollution— in emergency rooms, surgeries and general practitioners’ offices.
Now, they’re fighting back: a new global coalition launched this week to mobilize clinicians, public health professionals and organizations across the globe to advocate for aggressive clean air policies that protect people from the harmful effects of air pollution.
Inspire, driven by Vital Strategies and members of the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, offers a framework for health advocates to push governments to address the root causes of air pollution and advocate for cleaner air policies.
“Every day, clinicians see the harms of air pollution— people suffering with acute asthma, heart attacks, strokes and more. There’s a limit to what we can do to help individuals reduce their exposure to harmful air pollution,” said Vital Strategies’ Senior Advisor for Science, Dr. Neil Schluger.
“We have to mobilize because the problem is growing and the need for action is urgent,” he continued.
The scale of that problem is already staggering: 9 in 10 people in the world breathe polluted air, which is now the leading environmental cause of death and disease. Air pollution kills seven million people each year and takes a multi-billion-dollar toll in terms of lost human potential and damage to agriculture.
“Yet, too many governments are failing to address this problem as a public health crisis— that’s why Inspire is so important,” said Dr. Schluger.
People in low- and middle-income countries, where rapid urbanization is outpacing air pollution control measures, bear the brunt of its impact.
“We call for the universal recognition that clean air is a human right. We have a right to breathe clean air and a right to know the quality of our air. Advocates are the voice of the people, especially the vulnerable at global and country level,” said WHO Regional Office for Africa’s Advocacy Officer Elvis Ndikum Achiri, based in Cameroon.
Inspire’s goals align with the World Health Organization’s roadmap for enhanced global action on air pollution.
• Improving awareness in the global health community, including clinicians, public health practitioners and scientists, about air pollution and its health effects, sources and solutions, as well as harm-reduction measures for individuals.
• Increasing involvement of clinicians and clinical organizations in advocacy for clean air policies.
• Establishing a global network of informed health-oriented champions and speakers on air pollution and health.
• Growing public awareness of the dangers of air pollution.
• Exerting political pressure on governments to encourage aggressive clean air policies.
Members of the Inspire coalition will help bring air pollution to the forefront of local, national and global health and climate agendas through education and advocacy.
“There is overwhelming evidence that air pollution adversely affects health across the life course,” said Queen Mary University of London’s Professor of Paediatric Respiratory and Environmental Medicine, Jonathan Grigg, “but progress in reducing exposure remains painfully slow.”
“Health professionals, with their detailed knowledge of the diseases associated with exposure to air pollution, have an important role to play in communicating the importance of exposure-mitigation strategies both to policymakers and to the public, who need to pay for these strategies. Inspire aims to support local advocates with medical expertise in delivering this important message,” he said.
Inspire’s launch also adds volume to the message of global advocacy campaigns like BreatheLife and Unmask My City— launched by the Global Climate and Health Alliance (GCHA) and its partners— the latter which connects with local health partners and their communities “to promote practical solutions and create tangible city-level policy changes that drive a clear, downward global trend in urban air pollution by 2030”.
“Air pollution is one of the most important preventable causes of ill health and death,” said pulmonologist and Senior Lecturer at the College of Medicine of the University of Lagos, Dr. Obianuju Ozoh.
We all have a role to play in curbing the burden and impact of air pollution on our health. Let us challenge ourselves to make each breath count toward better health, longer lives and better days.”