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Bad news for Dhaka: Coronavirus fatalities linked to air pollution

  • Published at 07:00 am April 8th, 2020
Photo: Rajib Dhar

Dhaka continues to be categorized by IQAir as one of the top five cities in the world with the highest levels of air pollution

The continuous low air quality of Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka might increase the risk of coronavirus infection as a new study suggests the first clear link between long-term exposure to air pollution and Covid-19 death rates.

According to a new study by Harvard University TH Chan School of Public Health, it has been found that higher levels of the tiny, dangerous particles in air, identified as PM2.5, were associated with higher death rates from the disease.

Dhaka continues to be categorized by IQAir as one of the top five cities in the world with the highest levels of air pollution.

The PM2.5 refers to atmospheric particulate matter (PM) that has a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers, which is about 3% of the diameter of a human hair, according to BlissAir.

Despite a global shutdown due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Dhaka continues to struggle as its air quality failed to show any improvements in the last one month, with residential areas like Gulshan and Bashundhara repeatedly showing AQI (Air Quality Index) scores within the “unhealthy” category.

In Bangladesh, the AQI is based on five criteria pollutants -- Particulate Matter (PM10 and PM2.5), NO2, CO, SO2, and Ozone (O3). The Harvard analysis becomes the first study in the United States to suggest that even a slightest increase in pollution exposure in the long-term could have serious coronavirus-related consequences, also considering other factors like smoking rates and population density.

The study also concluded that a small increase in long-term exposure to PM2.5 leads to a large increase in Covid-19 death rate, with the magnitude of increase 20 times that observed for PM2.5 and all-cause mortality.

 “We found that an increase of only 1 g/m3 in PM2.5 is associated with a 15% increase in the Covid-19 death rate,” it said.

The US has the largest reported outbreak with more than 398,000 people infected, representing more than one-fifth of all cases worldwide, with New York at its epicenter.

Over the past one week, New York in the United States showed an average AQI score of 29.1 (marked as good) and reported at least 3,202 deaths as a result of the virus.

Till Tuesday, 41 more people tested positive with Covid-19 in Bangladesh raising the total infected to 164. Five more people died taking the total death toll to 17. Of the 164 infected, 33 have recovered so far.

It also said the findings also established the relation between the exposure to air pollution with cardiovascular and respiratory problems in increasing the chances of death from Covid-19 infection.  

“The results of this paper suggest that long-term exposure to air pollution increases vulnerability to experiencing the most severe Covid-19 outcomes. These findings align with the known relationship between PM2.5 exposure and many of the cardiovascular and respiratory comorbidities that dramatically increase the risk of death in Covid-19 patients,” the study said.

“They are also consistent with findings that air pollution exposure dramatically increased the risk of death during the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003, which is caused by another type of coronavirus,” it added.

The study also highlighted the importance of continuing to enforce existing air pollution regulations to protect human health both during and after the Covid-19 crisis.

“Based on our result, we anticipate a failure to do so can potentially increase the Covid-19 death toll and hospitalizations, further burdening our healthcare system and drawing resources away from Covid-19 patients,” the authors of the study wrote.

According to Worldometers, 7,382 new coronavirus deaths were recorded on Tuesday, highest till date, taking the total number of deaths from Covid-19 across the world to 82,080.

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