Skip to content ↓

Air Pollution and Health

More than 90% of the world breathes polluted air, and air pollution is the fifth leading risk factor for death worldwide, killing some five million people each year.

Why It Matters

  • 6.8b breathe unhealthy air.
  • 3b+ people rely on polluting biomass fuels (wood, charcoal, dung) for cooking and heating their homes.
  • 50% of pneumonia deaths among children under 5 years of age are caused by household air pollution.
  • 1.3m people in India and Indonesia alone died because of air pollution in 2017.

Our Current Focus

test label

More than five million people die every year because of poor air quality. This burden falls disproportionately on vulnerable populations, especially women and children living without access to clean household energy, and people living in low- and middle-income countries where urbanization has brought increased emissions from heavy industry and motorized transport, outpacing air pollution control measures. 

To address this global issue, Vital Strategies provides technical expertise and consultative services to inform policies and influence public discourse around air pollution and its health impacts around the world. As part of our efforts to address the disparate impact of air pollution on vulnerable populations, we work with governments to analyze age-, sex-, and geography-specific health outcomes.

See the Environmental Health Division Capability Statement for details on areas of expertise and project portfolio.

Influencing Policies by Partnering with Governments

Policy solutions that control emission sources are the most effective ways to improve air quality and health. In South and Southeast Asia, where air pollution is a leading risk factor for premature death, we provide support to governments to address emissions. In Indonesia, we partner with Jakarta’s city government and nongovernmental organizations to improve the city’s response by improving air monitoring, identifying leading sources of pollutants, and measuring the health impacts and costs of air pollution. In India, we work with the State health departments, local advocates for clean air, and clinicians to promote policies to reduce emissions. 

People burn grass and trees to clear an area for construction on the outskirts of Jakarta, Indonesia. (Photo: UNICEF Indonesia)

Engaging the Health Sector in Clean Air Action

Through our work within the USAID-funded Clean Air Catalyst program and the Cleaner Air and Better Health project, we are working to ensure clean air action promotes and demonstrates measurable benefits to public health. Through the Clean Air Catalyst program, led by World Resources Institute, we are working with partners in Jakarta, Indore, and Nairobi to raise awareness of air quality and its impacts among health partners, including clinicians, researchers, and policy makers, with a focus on identifying and prioritizing actions to address leading sources of pollution.

The Cleaner Air and Better Health (CABH) project is supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and is being implemented by a consortium led by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water and includes Asar Social Impact Advisers, Environmental Design Solutions, Enviro Legal Defence Firm, and Vital Strategies. It aims to strengthen air pollution mitigation and reduce exposure to air pollution in India by establishing evidence-based, comprehensive models for better air quality management (AQM) systems.

Both efforts emphasize the importance of having better integration of health data into air quality management systems, as well as enhanced efforts to raise awareness of clean air as a preventive strategy to promote health.

Promoting Sound Research and the Use of Data 

Our expert staff and consultants are building comprehensive and innovative guides for city governments around the world looking to jumpstart their air quality management systems, focusing on air quality monitoring systems, policy solutions, and public engagement strategies.

Global progress on environmental issues requires public awareness and civil society demand for action.”

Air pollution is a public health issue. It therefore requires substantial attention from the public health sector. Increasing awareness of the devastating effects of poor air quality on human health is key to driving public demand for clean air action.

Advocacy Through Journalists and Clinicians

Global progress on environmental issues requires public awareness and civil society demand for action. Part of our work includes training journalists to find and use data on the sources and health impacts of air pollution, and on techniques for building compelling, solution-focused stories. Through Inspire: Health Advocates for Clean Air—our coalition of health practitioners around the world who advocate for clean air—we are raising the profile of air pollution as a health issue and providing clinicians with the tools they need to communicate air pollution risks to their colleagues, patients and policymakers. Our communications experts also conduct research to better understand how people and media perceive air pollution, informing strategic communication and campaigns targeted toward behavior and policy change.

Air Pollution and Health Resources View all