Air pollution is driving a global public health crisis. It is responsible for one in nine deaths worldwide, and touches everyone given 92% of the human race live in places that do not meet World Health Organisation guidelines.
Doctors were pivotal in the anti-tobacco campaigns of the late 20th century, not only helping people understand the risks of cigarette smoking, but building a compelling case to propel decision makers into action, and ensure a healthier future for people in countries all over the world.
Just like the anti-tobacco campaigns of the late 20th century, doctors are sounding alarms about the health risks of poor air quality in our cities, and through the Unmask My City initiative are aiming draw attention to the public health crisis air pollution is driving.
Air pollution drives direct health impacts like increased risk of heart disease, asthma attacks, lung cancer, respiratory diseases and stroke; and also indirect threats like heatstroke, tropical disease spread and more through its contribution to global warming. The Lancet Commission for example released a report in 2015 that not only reaffirmed the severity of the threat climate change poses to global health, but labelled it a “medical emergency”. The Lancet showed that tackling the crisis could be the “greatest health opportunity of the 21st Century”, especially considering it could undermine the last fifty years of gains in development and public health.
In a new global initiative called Unmask My City, these health groups are using air quality monitors, smartphones, and innovative LED light masks that change colour according to pollution levels to highlight the preventable and direct impacts of air pollution. These include asthma attacks, increased risks of heart disease, lung cancer, respiratory diseases and strokes, and climate change-related heatstroke, tropical disease spread, and more. The sources of and solutions to air pollution are clear. It is up to authorities to make better choices to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and get our cities into the World Health Organization’s green “healthy” air zone by 2030.