Medical experts have called for proactive actions against climate hazards, noting that its increasing incidence poses a great danger to reproductive health.
According to the experts, exposure to climate hazards like higher temperatures, heatwaves, soot, polluted water during pregnancy could damage the health of the mother, foetuses, and infants.
According to them, pregnant women that are exposed to air pollution, hot atmospheric temperatures could have a premature delivery or give birth to babies with congenital deformities.
The experts explained that while there is a need for more research to determine the effects of air pollution on pregnancies and newborns, pregnant women, neonates and children should be protected from climate hazards as failure to act will worsen reproductive health.
Speaking with PUNCH HealthWise, a Consultant Paediatrician, Nephrology Division at the Federal Medical Centre, Katsina, Dr. Abdurrazzaq Alege, warned that exposure to heat can have effects on the baby.
“When the mother is exposed to so much heat, we call it hyperthermia and it could result in sickness in the mother and once that happens, the woman can lose her pregnancy. If she is having a persistent high fever, she can even have premature delivery even if she doesn’t lose the baby.
“Once the atmospheric temperature is very hot, then the body tries to regulate it but when it becomes persistently hot, the external body eventually transmit it to the internal part of the body and the part of the body that controls temperature will shut down and with this, it can result in damage to the baby or premature delivery,” Alege said.
Hyperthermia is an abnormally high body temperature caused by a failure of the heat-regulating mechanisms of the body to deal with the heat coming from the environment.
Every year, an estimated 15 million babies are born preterm (before 37 completed weeks of gestation), and this number is rising, according to the World Health Organisation.
2018 data from the WHO places Nigeria third among the 10 countries with the highest number of preterm births, with 773,600 per annum.
Top on the list of countries with the highest number of preterm births is India with 3,519,100; and China with 1,172,300. Pakistan is fourth with 748,100; followed by Indonesia with 675,700; the United States of America with 517,400; Bangladesh with 424,100; the Philippines with 348,900; the Democratic Republic of the Congo with 341,400; and Brazil with 279,300.
Speaking further, Alege said a pregnant woman who is exposed to soot may have a malformed baby.
“The soot in Port Harcourt may cause abnormality in the formation of the baby; it can cause the baby to be malformed because it is coal. The substance can alter the formation of the baby, the baby can be malformed, some of them may come out without eyes, we call it teratogenic,” he said.
A teratogen is a substance or agent that can cause birth defects or abnormalities in a developing embryo or fetus upon exposure.
He added that when a woman is pregnant and is chronically exposed to heat, the heat can affect the baby.
“Water pollution is also dangerous too. If the mother drinks polluted water, it can affect the baby and so there is a need for regulation to protect the environment and the people.
“Soot is not supposed to happen in a cosmopolitan area. Soot is not something that should pollute a residential environment. Ideally, there are supposed to be filters and the same with the water so it doesn’t mix with the water people drink.
“Gas flaring will affect the ozone layer and have a deleterious effect on everybody and not just baby,” the paediatrician said.
Also speaking with PUNCH HealthWise, a Professor of Public Health and former National Chairman of the Association of Public Health Physicians of Nigeria, Tanimola Akande said it is believed that the toxins from these chemicals have an effect on the human body system including pregnant women.
“Air pollution is a contamination of the air with chemicals, fumes, smoke, and several other things. These are often inhaled by people and some settle on water sources.
“The toxins can cross to the foetus and may even affect the growth of the newborn. It is believed that they can lead to preterm deliveries and low birthweight. Some inborn defects can also be attributed to air pollution,” Akande said.
The physician, however, said a lot more research is needed to clearly determine the effects of air pollution on pregnancies and newborns.
A study published in the peer-reviewed medical journal Paediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology found that climate change, resulting in rising temperatures around the world, is having a concerning effect on fetuses, babies, and infants.
The study was titled: “Impacts of climate change on reproductive, perinatal and paediatric health.”
Six different studies from scientists showed that climate change – among other adverse outcomes – increases the risk of premature birth, hospitalisation of young children, and weight gain in babies.
The researchers, Amelia Wesselink and Gregory Wellenius said maternal exposure to higher temperatures has been associated with lower birth weight, but noted that the adverse effects of early-life exposure to extreme heat may extend beyond birth.
“For example, Dionicio and colleagues examined the association between exposure to ambient heat in the first year of life and rapid infant weight gain,
which has been associated with obesity in childhood, adolescence and adulthood.
“Using data from maternal and child health clinics in Israel, the authors report that exposure to minimum temperature in the highest (≥6.7°C) compared with the middle (3.8–5.2°C) quintile was associated with a 5% (95% CI: 3, 7) greater risk of rapid weight gain during the first year of life.
Because infancy is a critical period of development that has an important role in determining adult body composition, and obese individuals may be more physiologically susceptible to extreme heat, this work has important implications for both climate change and the obesity epidemic.”
The researchers say the evidence is clear: climate hazards, particularly heat and air pollution, do adversely impact a wide range of reproductive, perinatal, and paediatric health outcomes.