June 27 (UPI) -- Air pollution is responsible for one in five infant deaths in sub-Saharan Africa, according to a study published Wednesday by Stanford University and the University of California, San Diego.
The research team looked at combined data from over 15 years on approximately 1 million births across 30 countries in the sub-Saharan Africa region, and found satellite-based measurements of particulate matter that contributed to 20 percent of infant deaths.
Particulate matter is a mixture of small particles and liquid droplets in the air that, once inhaled, can cause damage to the heart and lungs.
"Many wealthy countries have recently used legislation to clean up their air," said Marshall Burke, study co-author and assistant professor of Earth system science in the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences at Stanford. "We find that if countries in Africa could achieve reductions in particulate matter exposure similar to wealthy countries, the benefits to infant health could be larger than nearly all currently used health interventions, such as vaccinations or food and water supplements."
The researchers said even small decreases in the amount of particulate matter in the air can lead to substantial decreases in infant deaths, and finding cost-effective ways to improve the air should be a policy and research priority.
"We now have a better sense of the immense benefits of air quality improvements for infant health," said Sam Heft-Neal, a research scholar at Stanford's Center on Food Security and the Environment. "Next we need to establish how these improvements can be achieved."
Africa's air pollution problem has become a growing concern for international research organizations.
Last year, a study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development found that air pollution is responsible for more deaths in the sub-Saharan Africa region than malnutrition or dirty water.