One of the major reasons for low weight among newborns in rural India is the continuous exposure of pregnant women to indoor air pollution, experts say.
Indoor air pollution caused by firewood and coal used for cooking and animal dung used as fuel cause severe indoor pollution which is a major factor behind the occurrence of a number of diseases including respiratory diseases among women, according to doctors.
They said not only does it cause low birth weight, the continuous exposure of pregnant women to air pollution can also lead to brain deformity, asthma and improper growth among newborns.
“For a woman, the time between conception and birth is perhaps one of the most vital life stages. If a pregnant woman is exposed to too much of air pollution, carbon monoxide in the air causes interference in the passage of oxygen, which leads to oxygen insufficiency and hence results in low birth weight or even death,” said Dr Bandita Sinha, an obstetrics and gynaecology specialist at Apollo Hospital and Fortis.
Data released by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) shows five lakh lives are lost in India every year due to indoor air pollution. Most of them are women and children.
The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) recently said that one of its focus areas in 2016-17 will be to raise awareness among rural women regarding the use of electricity or cooking gas stoves to curb indoor air pollution.
During pregnancy many women mostly stay indoors, Dr Sinha said. The smoke caused by cooking gas also makes newborns prone to catching diseases like pneumonia after birth because of a weak immune system caused by indoor air pollution.
Nilesha Chitre, gynaecologist at the SRV Hospital in Mumbai, said, “People in rural parts of the country have to understand that the total suspended particles present inside a kitchen have 1,000 times greater chance to penetrate deep into the lungs than the suspended particles outside.”
“Women are constantly exposed to chulha smoke in India due to several cultural mindsets,” added Dr Chitre.
“There have been various cases where due to the continuous exposure to indoor air pollution, the nervous system of newborns also gets damaged. The pollutants are extremely poisonous for newborns, even leading to deaths,” she said.