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RCP special adviser on air quality comments on Ella Kissi-Debrah inquest

Professor Sir Stephen Holgate comments on the conclusion of the inquest into the death of nine-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah.

Nine-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah, who died following an asthma attack, has become the first person in the UK to have air pollution listed as a cause of death. Professor Sir Stephen Holgate, RCP’s special adviser on air quality, gave evidence at the inquest into her death, and responding to the inquest’s findings, he said:

“Ella died of severe intractable asthma after only having the disease for under 3 years during which time she was admitted to hospital 27 times. The nature of her asthma with severe damage to the lining cells of her airways and a massive increase in mucus secretion pointed to chemical damage in a highly genetically susceptible Individual.

“Consistently breathing toxic air pollution at illegal levels played an important role in initiating her asthma and its ongoing severe expression, especially in the winter when pollution was worse.

“While it has long been known that air pollution is linked to asthma, her tragic death has shone a brilliant light on how damaging air pollution can be.

“Literally, Ella was like a “canary in a coal mine”. Let us hope that this is a stimulus for accelerating cleaning up the air for the benefit of all but especially those most vulnerable, like Ella, who sadly paid the ultimate price”

The RCP has long campaigned for action on air quality. Our 2016 joint report with the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health Every breath we take found that around 40,000 deaths are attributable to exposure to outdoor air pollution and offered several major reform proposals setting out what must be done if we are to tackle the problem of air pollution. As a member of the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change, we are calling for the World Health Organisation’s guidelines on air quality targets to be enshrined in UK law.