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November 1, 2021

New WHO guidelines on air quality to reduce burden of disease

The WHO has set new global air quality guidelines, which will help prevent or ameliorate cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.

By GlobalData Healthcare

The WHO estimates that 7 million premature deaths are caused by the effects of air pollution each year. In late September, the World Health Organization (WHO) updated its global air quality guidelines. This update replaces the previous version released in 2005. While the WHO air quality guidelines are not legally binding, they set the standards for future healthcare policy. GlobalData epidemiologists expect that the updated WHO recommendations will prompt changes to current air quality policies and standards. If adopted, the new standards will likely reduce the burden of disease for various cardiovascular and respiratory diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma and acute ischemic stroke (AIS), which develop or are exacerbated by air pollution.

The WHO’s new guidelines tighten standards for six major pollutants that pose a health risk: particulate matter (two categories), ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and carbon monoxide. When limits are set for these major pollutants, it also reduces levels of other damaging pollutants. The health risks associated with particulate matter equal to or smaller than 10µm and 2.5µm in diameter are of particular public health concern. Both particulate types can infiltrate deep into the lungs, but particulates 2.5µm or smaller (fine particulate matter) can infiltrate further into the bloodstream. As such, these particulates have significant cardiovascular and respiratory impacts. The updated WHO long-term air quality guidelines set a limit of 5µm/m³ for fine particulate matter and 15 µm/m³ for particulate matter 10µm or less. In comparison, the 2005 guideline was 10µm/m³ and20 µm/m³, respectively.

In the 16MM (16 major markets: US, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, UK, Japan, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, India, Mexico, Russia, South Africa and South Korea) in 2021, GlobalData epidemiologists forecast approximately 305 million diagnosed prevalent cases of COPD, asthma and AIS combined. This is expected to increase to over 332 million diagnosed prevalent cases by 2027 (as shown in Figure 1). If the updated guidelines are adopted in these markets in the near future, this may translate to a reduction in the overall burden of cardiovascular and respiratory disease. Therefore, GlobalData epidemiologists expect that the diagnosed prevalent cases of COPD, asthma and AIS will likely fall below current forecast estimates. While the WHO sets the global standards, it will remain up to individual countries whether these guidelines are implemented, followed and enforced.

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