India had highest number of pollution-related deaths, reveals study; 2.5 million died in 2015 due to poor air quality

By Aishwarya Patil

In 2015, out of the 10.3 million deaths in India due to non-communicable diseases (NCDs), 2.5 million were linked to pollution, according to a global study.

Pollution caused nine million deaths, or 16 percent of global mortality — three times more deaths than from Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), tuberculosis, and malaria combined — in 2015, the study, titled 'Commission on Pollution and Health', published in Lancet, found.

India had highest number of pollution-related deaths, reveals study; 2.5 million died in 2015 due to poor air quality

Representational image. Reuters

Rising air pollution in a metropolitan city like Delhi and smaller cities such as Ranchi are leading to rising incidences of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cancer, diabetes and other pollution-related ailments, the study found.

Pollution was in focus when a cricket Test match between India and Sri Lanka in Delhi had to be halted several times, as Sri Lankan players complained of breathing difficulties while some also vomited on the ground due to "poor air quality".

Increasing link between pollution and NCDs

As many as 27 percent of deaths in India were caused due to pollution, making it the country with the highest number of pollution-related deaths, followed by China, according to the Lancet study.

Low and middle-income groups are worst affected by pollution; 92 percent of pollution-related deaths occurred in that income group, IndiaSpend had reported on 14 November, 2017.

In 1990, NCDs accounted for 30.5 percent of the disease burden, which has risen to 55.4 percent in 2016, according to a report by the Indian Council of Medical Research, titled 'India: Health of Nation's States'.

Diabetes and heart diseases are the leading causes for India's increasing disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) — a measure of overall disease burden, expressed as the number of years lost due to ill-health, disability or early death — with diabetes registering an 80 percent increase and a 34 percent increase in heart diseases since 1990.

As many as 61 percent deaths in India in 2016 were caused due to NCDs, according to a 2016 study titled 'Lifestyle Diseases: Body Burdenby the New Delhi-based advocacy group Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). There were 22.2 million COPD patients and 35 million asthma patients in 2016, the study said.

Rural India outspends urban India on lifestyle-related treatments

As many as 13 percent of all Indian deaths occur due to COPD, according to the CSE report. Rural men and women are at a higher risk of COPD than their urban counterparts.

While 10.76 million rural men were at risk of COPD in 2016, 3.94 million urban men were at risk. As many as 5.54 million and 1.97 million rural and urban women, respectively, were at risk of COPD in 2016.

There has been a five-fold increase in COPD treatment costs over the previous two decades. In 2016 alone, the rural population spent Rs 35,445.2 crore compared to Rs 12,860.9 crore by the urban population.

The money spent by COPD patients can be reduced by adopting strategies like controlling consumption of tobacco and smoking, according to a report by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2005.

The increased hospitalisation expenditure for rural India is linked to delays in detection and treatment. Rural citizens often have to travel to cities and towns in order to avail of specialised treatments.

Lack of awareness, facilities, specialised doctors and lack of minor surgeries also increases the collective treatment costs for rural India, IndiaSpend reported on 17 October, 2017.

Even after being able to get access to treatment in government hospitals, patients are unable to afford the rehabilitative care required. High hospitalisation costs and lack of faith in public healthcare are also among the reasons people avoid formal healthcare.


Fewer people in rural India (44.7 percent) report illnesses compared to urban areas (58.7 percent), according to government data.

"The cost is going to be much higher considering that risk factors in India are more than the four identified by WHO: Alcohol, tobacco, poor diet intake and lack of physical activity," Sunita Narain, director general of CSE, wrote in the 'Body Burden: Lifestyle Diseases' study.

"These risk factors have multiple targets and can cause diseases not generally linked to them. For example, exposure to pesticides is known to cause cancer but new data is emerging to link it to diabetes as well," it said.

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Updated Date: Jan 03, 2018 10:26:28 IST

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