Peña: Silent killer

THE loss of life by the thousands or millions is shocking. The plague in Europe claimed the lives of 20 to 50 million people. World War II caused the death of around 60 million people. More recent catastrophes are the 2004 Christmas Day Earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean which killed more than 230,000 people and the Tsunami in Japan 2011 with more than 15,000 fatalities. Here at home, Super Typhoon Yolanda left 6,000 people dead.

But did you know that there is a silent killer in our midst, which is deadlier than wars, famine and disasters combined? It’s pollution.

According to a report of the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health (, pollution is the largest environmental cause of disease and premature death in the world today. Diseases caused by pollution were responsible for an estimated 9 million premature deaths in 2015 -- 16 percent of all deaths worldwide -- three times more deaths than from Aids, tuberculosis, and malaria combined and 15 times more than from all wars and other forms of violence.

Other findings estimates that disease caused by all forms of pollution was responsible for 268 million DALYs, or 254 million years of life lost and 14 million years lived with disability. DALY or Disability adjusted life-year concept is a summary metric of population health that combines information on mortality and disease into a single number to represent the health of a population.

The sad reality is that pollution disproportionately kills the poor and the vulnerable, the report concludes. Nearly 92 percent of pollution-related deaths occur in low-income and middle-income countries and, in countries at every income level, disease caused by pollution is most prevalent among minorities and the marginalized. Children are at high risk of pollution-related disease and even extremely low-dose exposures to pollutants during windows of vulnerability in utero and in early infancy can result in disease, disability, and death in childhood and across their lifespan.

Pollution is also costly. Pollution-related diseases cause productivity losses that reduce gross domestic product (GDP) in low-income to middle-income countries by up to two percent per year. Pollution-related disease also results in health-care costs that are responsible for 1.7 percent of annual health spending in high-income countries and for up to
seven percent of health spending in middle-income countries that are heavily polluted and rapidly developing. Welfare losses due to pollution are estimated to amount to US$4.6 trillion per year or 6.2 percent of global economic output.

What’s noteworthy is that that pollution can be eliminated, and thus prevent senseless deaths. The report recommends several action plans to address this silent killer.

1. Make pollution prevention a high priority nationally and internationally and integrate it into country and city planning processes.

2. Mobilize, increase, and focus the funding and the international technical support dedicated to pollution control.

3. Establish systems to monitor pollution and its effects on health.

4. Build multi-sectoral partnerships for pollution control.

5. Integrate pollution mitigation into planning processes for non-communicable diseases. Interventions against pollution need to be a core component of the Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases.

6. Research pollution and pollution control. Research is needed to understand and control pollution and to drive change in pollution policy.

To us ordinary citizens, we can prevent pollution by managing our solid waste properly, not dirtying rivers and streams with garbage and contaminated water and by ensuring that our vehicles don’t emit black smoke.
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