Asthma is a public health challenge which requires action now. Asthma is a matter of life and death and on World Asthma Day, it is more timely than ever to look at, air pollution, one of the key risk factors, and the need for urgent action across Europe.
Asthma is a chronic disease affecting the airways that affects between 100 and 150 million people globally,with allergy and asthma being one of the most common childhood diseases. One in four children under 10 years live with allergy. Ten percent of Belgians between 18 and 44 years old have asthma, 5% suffering severely. Behind the statistics there are many human stories, such as that of Nadia who developed a severe form of asthma over eight years ago.
Although treatment for asthma has greatly improved in recent years, with a reduction in the number of hospitalisations in Europe, the number of asthma patients in Belgium is increasing. This is not unique to Belgium as, according to the Belgian UCB Institute of Allergy cases of asthma in Western Europe have doubled within the last 10 years. For example, In Germany, approximately 4 million people live with asthma, while roughly 1.1 million young people aged 0-15 and 4.3 million people aged over 16 have asthma. Approximately 1200 deaths are caused by asthma each year in the UK.
Children are suffering from transport pollution
A recent Lancet article stated that globally, 4 million new paediatric asthma cases could be attributable to NO2 pollution annually, with 64% of these occurring in urban areas. Examining the data and the research , it is evident that a majority of asthma cases occur in cities. The authors of the research concluded that “traffic emissions should be a target for exposure-mitigation strategies. The adequacy of the WHO guideline for ambient NO2 concentrations might need to be revisited.”
Mapping Where Traffic Pollution Hurts Children Most
Research shows nearly one in five childhood asthma cases are caused by traffic-related air pollution. In an analysis of over 70 million children across the United States, an interactive heat map highlighted the number of asthma cases in children due to NO2. The heat map, which also looks at PM2.5 and PM10 shows that “childhood asthma attributable to traffic pollution across the US decreased, on average, by 33 percent between 2000 and 2010.” Unfortunately, children living in urban areas had twice the percentage of asthma cases attributable to NO2 when compared with children in rural areas. 18 percent of all childhood asthma cases were due to traffic-related air pollution,.
A Matter of Life and Death – the story of Ella Roberta Kissi-Debrah
Air pollution is not only very costly for our healthcare systems but affects real lives . Last month, Rosamund Kissi-Debrah came to Brussels to tell the story of her 9 year-old daughter, Ella Roberta who died, after suffering a number of asthma attacks caused by high levels of air pollution. Rosamund spoke compellingly at the EPHA-organised event of the harsh reality of the dangers of high levels of air pollution which also highlighted the role of science in tackling air pollution limits as well as the need for greater enforcement measures. . Rosamund has helped EPHA launch a petition, which calls for efforts to reduce air pollution in Europe to be a political priority for the new European Commission.
Air Pollution and health : facts and myths
EPHA member, the European Respiratory Society has highlighted many of the common misunderstandings and myths regarding air pollution and its adverse effects on health, as well as the added value of European air pollution limits and why they should be strengthened.
For asthma patients living with the burden of the disease, each day is World Asthma day. The devastating consequences of asthma show, more than ever, that action to address air pollution is vitally needed in Europe. Join our call to action.
 Achakulwisut, P and Brauer, M and Hystad, P and Anenberg, S C (2019) Global, national, and urban burdens of paediatric asthma incidence attributable to ambient NO₂ pollution: estimates from global datasets.
 Khreis, H (2019) Mapping Where Traffic Pollution Hurts Children Most.