UBC Faculty Research and Publications

The role of cities in reducing the cardiovascular impacts of environmental pollution in low- and middle-income countries Baumgartner, Jill; Brauer, Michael; Ezzati, Majid


Background: As low- and middle-income countries urbanize and industrialize, they must also cope with pollution emitted from diverse sources. Main text: Strong and consistent evidence associates exposure to air pollution and lead with increased risk of cardiovascular disease occurrence and death. Further, increasing evidence, mostly from high-income countries, indicates that exposure to noise and to both high and low temperatures may also increase cardiovascular risk. There is considerably less research on the cardiovascular impacts of environmental conditions in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), where the levels of pollution are often higher and the types and sources of pollution markedly different from those in higher-income settings. However, as such evidence gathers, actions to reduce exposures to pollution in low- and middle-income countries are warranted, not least because such exposures are very high. Cities, where pollution, populations, and other cardiovascular risk factors are most concentrated, may be best suited to reduce the cardiovascular burden in LMICs by applying environmental standards and policies to mitigate pollution and by implementing interventions that target the most vulnerable. The physical environment of cities can be improved though municipal processes, including infrastructure development, energy and transportation planning, and public health actions. Local regulations can incentivize or inhibit the polluting behaviors of industries and individuals. Environmental monitoring can be combined with public health warning systems and publicly available exposure maps to inform residents of environmental hazards and encourage the adoption of pollution-avoiding behaviors. Targeted individual or neighborhood interventions that identify and treat high-risk populations (e.g., lead mitigation, portable air cleaners, and preventative medications) can also be leveraged in the very near term. Research will play a key role in evaluating whether these approaches achieve their intended benefits, and whether these benefits reach the most vulnerable. Conclusion: Cities in LMICs can play a defining role in global health and cardiovascular disease prevention in the next several decades, as they are well poised to develop innovative, multisectoral approaches to pollution mitigation, while also protecting the most vulnerable.

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