Study links PM 2.5 pollutants to anaemia prevalence

Long-term exposure to fine airborne particulate matter — PM 2.5 pollutants — may increase the prevalence of anaemia among women of reproductive age through systemic inflammation, a study has found.

According to the study, ‘Reducing the burden of anaemia in Indian women of reproductive age with clean-air targets’, anaemia prevalence will fall from 53 per cent to 39.5 per cent if India meets its recent clean-air targets, taking 186 districts below the national target of 35 per cent. India’s anaemia prevalence among women of reproductive age (15-45 years) is among the highest in the world.

The study, published in the Nature Sustainability journal around the end of August, was carried out by researchers from institutions and organisations in India, the US and China, including IIT-Delhi and IIT-Bombay.

The findings state that for every ten microgram/cubic metre of air increase in ambient PM2.5 exposure, the average anaemia prevalence among such women increases by 7.23 per cent. “Our results suggest that the transition to clean energy would accelerate India’s progress towards the ‘anaemia-free’ mission target,” says the study, which takes into account data from the National Family Health Survey-4 and National Sample Survey Office, along with PM 2.5 levels in various districts.

Among PM 2.5 sources, sulphate and black carbon are more associated with anaemia than organics and dust, finds the study, adding that among sectoral contributors, industry was the biggest. This was followed by the unorganised sector, domestic sources, power sector, road dust, agricultural waste burning and transport sector.

Anaemia, a major contributor to the global disease burden, is characterised by diminished blood haemoglobin concentration and is often accompanied by a decrease in red blood cells. This results in a decrease in the oxygen-carrying capacity of blood.

Women of reproductive age may suffer from regular iron deficiency due to menstruation and therefore are particularly prone to develop anaemia (from mild to severe). Dietary iron deficiency is another leading cause of anaemia. Other contributing factors include genetic disorders, parasitic infections and inflammation from infections and chronic diseases. The World Health Organization has set a global target to halve anaemia among women of reproductive age by 2053.

Anaemia is highly prevalent in India. The National Family and Health Survey 2015–2016 (NFHS-4) reported that 53.1% of WRA and 58.5% of children under five were anaemic.

India launched a programme under the POSHAN Abhiyaan aiming to make the country ‘anaemia-free’ and set a target of reducing anaemia in WRA to below 35% by 2022. Because an iron-deficient diet is the primary cause of the large burden of anaemia, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare is engaged in increasing the iron intake of the population.

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