Researchers at Stanford and University of California San Diego have collaborated on a new study, published recently in Nature Sustainability, that explores how dust pollution in the air contributes to infant mortality in Sub-Saharan Africa.
“Even small increases in dust can lead to large increases in infant mortality,” said the study’s senior author, environmental scientist Marshall Burke, PhD, in a video about the research from the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.
To determine how dust pollution in air contributed to Infant mortality, the researchers analysed 15 years of household surveys from 30 countries across Sub-Saharan Africa covering nearly a million births. They combined this survey with satellite-detected changes in particulate levels driven by the Bodele Depression in Chad.
Bodele Depression located at the southern edge of the Sahara Desert in north central Africa, is the lowest point in Chad. It is the largest source of dust emissions in the world.
The researchers compared the birth and death data of children living in Sub-Saharan Africa with satellite-detected changes in the air particle levels driven by the Bodele dust storms. Association between the two parameters was studied to see if poor air quality was associated with adverse health outcomes in children.
The study revealed that Emissions from Bodele contributed greatly to annual average particulate matter 2.5 concentrations across much of Africa, particularly in the north and west.
The study found that a 25% increase in local annual mean particulate concentrations in West Africa causes an 18% increase in infant mortality.
The study also found that Tiny particles present in dust also impaired young children’s growth.
The study highlighted that air pollution, even from natural sources, is extremely critical for child health.
Children under five are particularly vulnerable to the tiny particles in air pollution that can have a range of negative health impacts, including lower birth weight and impaired growth in the first year of life.
The new study, combined with previous findings from other regions, concluded that air pollution from natural sources as well as artificial sources could be linked to the high infant mortality in the region.
The researchers suggested dampening the ground using groundwater and sprinklers in the Bodele region to stop the dust from rising and polluting the air.
“What we can do is we put sprinklers out there,” — “We pump up the groundwater, and we put sprinklers out and we dampen the ground.”
Solar-powered irrigation systems can help prevent 37,000 infant deaths per year in West Africa, according to researchers.
It can be more affordable than current health interventions, including a range of vaccines and water and sanitation projects in improving child health, they pointed out.