Around 17 million babies in South Asian region live in areas where air pollution is at least six times higher than international limits, causing them to breathe toxic air and potentially damaging their brain development, according to a new report released by the United Nations Children`s Fund (UNICEF).
Breathing in particular air pollution can damage brain tissue and undermine cognitive development – with lifelong implications and setbacks. The report explains that ultrafine pollution particles are so small that they can enter into the bloodstream, travel to the brain, and damage the blood-brain barrier, which can cause neuro-inflammation.
Satellite imagery reveals that South Asia has the largest proportion of babies under the age of 1 (one) living in the worst-affected areas, with 12.2 million babies residing where outdoor air pollution exceeds six times the international limits set by the World Health Organization (WHO).
The East Asia and Pacific region is home to some 4.3 million babies. “Not only do pollutants harm babies` developing lungs – they can permanently damage their developing brains – and, thus, their futures,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake.
The paper shows that air pollution, like inadequate nutrition and stimulation, and exposure to violence during the critical first thousand days of life, can affect the development of their growing brains.