B.Tsogtbaatar talks about effects of air pollution on public health

Trans. by B.DULGUUN

Ulaanbaatar hosted the Effects of Air Pollution on Children’s Health international conference at Shangri-La Hotel from January 25 to 26. The conference touched on significant topics concerning the effects of air pollution on the respiratory system and children’s susceptibility to pneumonia.
Many scientists from different countries shared their studies and findings on the issue during the conference. Director of the Public Health Institute B.Tsogtbaatar gave an interesting presentation under the topic, “Assessment and Future Trends of the Impacts of Air Pollution on Public Health” at the conference. 
B.Tsogtbaatar gave an intervew on the first day of the conference.

Why was the effects of air pollution on children’s health chosen as the topic for the international conference?

Compared to the past, Mongolians are talking less about air pollution. The scope of air pollution projects has shrunk even though the smoke in the city hasn’t decreased that much. The National Committee for Reducing Air Pollution started off enthusiastically because the Prime Minister had all deputy ministers join this committee and actively participate in activities. Many organizations, such as the Millennium Challenge Account Mongolia and Clean Air Fund, were taking initiative for this issue. In this sense, projects to combat air pollution were considered at a political level and were financially supported. People got to know their role at an executive level.
All sectors joined hands to improve the quality of air and worked together. The health sector isn’t actually in charge of resolving air pollution issues, despite the fact that negative effects from fuel, coal, and energy damage people’s health. It’s vital to find solutions for this issue together, yet the strong passion and initiative have become weak. We’re organizing the Effects of Air Pollution on Children’s Health international conference in Ulaanbaatar to focus the public’s attention on air pollution again.
As part of the conference, Clean Air-Healthy Future arts and literature competitions were held for children, and the winners were awarded at the conference. A painting exhibition was held to let adults hear the voices of children and their opinions on air pollution, as well as see their creative artwork.

Many people have come to attend the conference. Can you tell us how many foreign representatives are participating?

The Ministry of Health and Sports, Ministry of Environment, Green Development and Tourism, National Authority for Children, and the Public Health Institute organized the conference with support from UNICEF. More than 160 scientists, scholars, policymakers and representatives from NGOs of Mongolia, the USA, Australia, England, China, and South Korea are participating in the event.
During the conference, we’re covering the effects and damage of air pollution on children’s health, respiratory systems, and their susceptibility to pneumonia. Many scientists have shared their research work.
Even if we say that air pollution will decline to a moderate level in five to 10 years, we can’t idly sit around and do nothing for public health during this time. The health sector organized the international conference so that it can lead projects that urgently need to be completed for air pollution reduction and public health.

Which indicators are crucial for determining the effects of air pollution on people’s health?

The World Health Organization reported that air pollution is a major risk factor for chronic diseases and cancer. A recent study showed that 3.1 million out of 50 million people living in environments with air pollution die at an earlier age. According to health statistics, the number of people suffering from a respiratory disease, which is considered to be directly related to air pollution, increased by an average of 26.8 and people with cardiovascular diseases increased by an average of 18.1 percent from 1999 to 2016.
In general, experts believe that exposure to air pollution results in chronic or acute poisoning symptoms. A chronic poisoning symptom is when the occurrences of circulatory system diseases and respiratory diseases increase, causing the number of patients admitted to hospitals due to these diseases to rapidly increase. Also, studies show that air pollution was the main cause of lung cancer for 40 percent of those who died from it. This is a form of chronic poisoning.
As for acute poisoning, London is a very accurate example. Specifically, 4,000 people in London died within two days due to acute poisoning from air pollution in 1952. We’re always being cautious about this sort of acute poisoning spreading in Mongolia. It’s necessary to improve the national capacity for studying and determining these occurrences and their spread. We can’t deny that there might be people dying from acute poisoning from air pollution even to this day. Children and elders are easily affected by poisoning as they have lower immunity.

The media recently reported about the increase of stillbirths. Does the increase of stillbirth have any connection to air pollution?

Multilateral actions are being taken to reduce air pollution in Ulaanbaatar, where nearly half of the population of Mongolia is residing, but we haven’t seen significant results. The objective of the two-day conference is to verify that poisoning from air pollution impacts people’s health through scientific studies and statistics. The scientific studies shared during the conference have been published as books.
Ugaar (smog) research work was conducted in the last three years to determine how air pollution negatively impacts fetal development. Five-hundred pregnant women from Sukhbaatar District participated in the research. As a result, it was determined that babies of mothers living near ger areas aren’t able to fully develop in the womb. International studies proved that being born with lower than average weight can badly affect a baby’s health. It’s highly likely for them to suffer from respiratory diseases or have a poor immune system in the future. The research results indicate that the weight of infants born in places with higher air pollution is 80 grams lower than the weight it should be, and that it’s highly possible for these babies to face some kind of serious health challenges as they grow up.

Is there a study on how many deaths are caused by air pollution in Ulaanbaatar?

It was determined in 2010 that 10 percent of total deaths among residents living in the capital are caused by air pollution. If we look at this in more detail, 29 percent of these people passed away due to circulatory system diseases and 40 percent from lung cancer caused by air pollution.
It’s true that we have been taking progressive measures for reducing air pollution in recent years. Moreover, our country developed a control system for air pollution and more people have become aware of this issue. Still, it is necessary to provide more detailed advice and recommendations to the public in regards to reducing air pollution, until it reaches a safe level, and on keeping themselves healthy. We can’t lose time. The most important step to take from now on is to go into work mode and take measures based on data and studies learned from the Effects of Air Pollution on Children’s Health conference.
In other words, realistic recommendations on resolving air pollution issues and improving public health should be given to the public and policymakers based on scientific studies that have already been conducted and shared. Both foreign and Mongolian researchers and scientists who have studied Ulaanbaatar’s air pollution gathered under the same roof to determine prospective project directions.

Do you have anything planned for fighting air pollution? 

Time and money is quite limited. I will take my financial opportunities into account when starting a research project and focus on the most important things. I don’t plan to do unnecessary studies that will overlap with the work of someone else.
The Public Health Institute is focusing on air quality in indoor environments where children spend most of their time, such as schools, because it’s considered that 70 percent of exposure to diseases related to air pollution occurs in indoor environments. Workplaces, classrooms, and halls of schools, homes, and the interior of public transportation vehicles are considered indoor environments. It’s possible to maintain air quality in indoor environments at a healthy and safe level, even if the air outside is polluted. First, our institute will study and test all possible ways to improve air quality indoors, and then determine effective recommendations that can be used on a broad scale. Afterwards, we will promote organizations working on the execution of the recommendations. In fact, the Public Health Institute isn’t an organization that merely conducts research.
I participated in the Nuudel Shiidel television program last week and proposed lengthening the winter holidays of students in general education schools, because air pollution reaches its peak during cold weather. Our institute submitted a proposal to T.Bat-Erdene, the Deputy Mayor in Charge of Environment and Ecology. Our proposal was supported by residents of Ulaanbaatar. Minister of Education, Culture and Science L.Gantumur issued an order to extend winter holidays by five days. This shows that the Public Health Institute doesn’t only talk, but actually takes measures to protect public health.

Source: mminfo.mn

Short URL: http://ubpost.mongolnews.mn/?p=18134

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