Inside a pulmonary ward for newborns in Ulaanbaatar’s bustling Maternity Hospital No. 3, Dr. Tungalag Lodon tends to a day-old infant just taken off his oxygen tubes. With relief, she notes progress in the little boy’s heartbeat. The prognosis for other patients with hypoxia -- a shortage of oxygen reaching the tissues -- is often grim.
Maternity hospitals across Mongolia’s smoggy capital have experienced a spike in birth defects and unhealthy newborns in recent years. “I suspect air pollution plays a major role,” said Lodon, who has seen a sharp increase in cleft palates, weak bones and underdeveloped vital organs in her 10 years at the hospital. One researcher estimated that congenital birth defects have increased up to 30 percent in the last decade due to Ulaanbaatar’s dirty air. Of children born with heart defects, a government study found 56 percent died within their first year.
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Pearly Jacob is an Ulaanbaatar-based freelance journalist.