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Environmental experts back study linking air pollution to coronavirus vulnerability

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Environmentalists have thrown their weight behind cutting edge study indicating some degrees of link between long time air pollution exposure, the vulnerability to covid-19 and death due to the pandemic.

They observed that if the environment was friendly, and there are no air pollutants, the respiratory tract will be healthy and the immune system would be fit enough to fight Coronavirus when it comes.

Most air pollution comes from fuel combustion, like automobiles, refineries and power plants, as well as some indoor sources like tobacco smoke. Breathing in such microscopic pollutants, experts said inflame and damages the lining of the lungs over time, weakening the body’s ability to fend off respiratory infections. Multiple studies have found that exposure to fine particulate matter puts people at heightened risk for lung cancer, heart attacks, strokes and even premature death.

The new research has established that patients in areas with high levels of air pollution before the pandemic are more likely to die from the infection than patients in cleaner areas.

In an analysis of 3,080 counties in the United States, researchers at the Harvard University United States, found that higher levels of the tiny, dangerous particles in air known as PM 2.5 were associated with higher death rates from the disease.

For weeks, public health officials have surmised a link between dirty air and death or serious illness from Covid-19, which is caused by the Coronavirus.

The Harvard analysis is the first nationwide study to show a statistical link, revealing a “large overlap” between Covid-19 deaths and other diseases associated with long-term exposure to fine particulate matter. The results of the paper suggest that long-term exposure to air pollution increases vulnerability to experiencing the most severe Covid-19 outcomes.

It posited that just a slight increase in long-term pollution exposure could have serious Coronavirus-related consequences, even accounting for other factors like smoking rates and population density. For example, it found that a person living for decades in a county with high levels of fine particulate matter is 15 per cent more likely to die from the coronavirus than someone in a region with one unit less of the fine particulate pollution.

A professor of biostatistics at Harvard, Francesca Dominici who led the study stressed that it provides evidence that counties that have more polluted air will experience higher risks of death for Covid-19.

Dominici said: “The study that offers a view into how a lifetime of breathing dirtier air can make people more susceptible to the coronavirus, which has already killed more than 10,000 people in the United States and 74,000 worldwide.

Speaking on the development, an environmentalist, Prof. Babajide Alo of the University of Lagos said, “There could be a link from the little we know now that Covid-19 goes through aerosols from the patients carrying the virus, in coughs, saliva and things like that goes through the aero zone and therefore it could be transmitted through the air.”

Professor of Chemistry said, a polluted air will always carry some forms of pollutants stressing that there is a good chance that people who are living in heavily air polluted cities would have had respiratory tract or lung compromised and not be in good shape because of air pollution and it could make them a lot more susceptible to attacks by the COVID 19.

Corroborating Alo, the Technical Director, Nigerian Conservation Foundation, (NCF), Dr Joseph Onoja said air pollution generally is linked to respiratory tract infections and ‘as we all know Covid 19 affects respiratory tract’.

The Vulnerability of people who are already exposed to air pollution, he said goes to show that when Covid 19 comes, it already meeting a vulnerable system.

Onoja said the pandemic would change lifestyle globally however; he expressed concerns as to whether people have learnt enough on the need to show sensitivity to protecting the environment.

“Undoubtedly when covid 19 is over, people might go back to business as usual. Rather, it should be a time for us to reflect on how people have been damaging the environment and the earth. It is not just about the amount of pollutants in the air has reduced since the start of Covid 19 but also the biodiversity that is recovering at a very fast rate. You could see animals feeling freely and moving freely because human are no longer on the street. In places where you don’t see certain birds or marine mammals, you find them there now because there are no disturbances. After the CoVID 19, We need to consistently create awareness through the United Nations and others so that the world could set aside one full day to stay at home so that people would take time to reflect on mother earth, think of what human has done to the earth and stand still to save the earth.”

The Executive Director, Health of Mother Earth Fouundation (HOMEF), Mr. Nnimmo Bassey said its obvious that the amount of green gas in the atmosphere has reduced because of the pandemic. This, he said is mostly related to transportation in land, sea and air and reduction of operations in polluting factories.

He said, “One could also add the fact that during this period, because of reduction in human activities, there could be less deforestation at this time. The lesson there is that pollution can be reduced. What is happening is accidental because the virus forced this to happen. Human we now have the opportunity to take real action to reduce pollutions and enhance general human health. If we missed this opportunity and return to the same mode of living pre-Covid, then we would have missed a big opportunity and when the next catastrophe emerges, we might not have the time to reflect.”

As dangerous as the pandemic is, it has a number of underlying sicknesses and disease that can make the pandemic more critical. We are treating the systems but nobody is looking at the root causes of the problem. We need to learn a lot of lesson from the diseases and not just throwing money at it. People shouldn’t see it as a business opportunity but thinking about the health of human rather than money.”


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