Mongolia’s economic growth rate in 2012 was 12.3 percent — one of the highest in the world — but that same growth has caused rapid urbanization. These changes have resulted in serious health problems that Mongolia currently lacks the capacity to address. International support has come from volunteers, including a team of physicians and health-care professionals from Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA).

For the last 15 years, David Warburton, MD, professor developmental biology program in the Department of Pediatrics at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and part of the Saban Research Institute of CHLA, has been volunteering in Mongolia’s capital city of Ulaan Baatar and the surrounding Gobi Desert.

Recently, Warburton and his colleagues received a five-year, $1.25 million grant from the Fogarty International Center of the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences to continue their research on air pollution and to build capacity among child health experts and government agencies in Mongolia.

Of the difficulties that urbanization presents to children’s health, rising air pollution is of major importance. The health effects from urban air pollution have been calculated to cost Mongolia 4 percent of GDP. During winter in the capital city of Ulaan Baatar, atmospheric particulate levels are over 250-fold above the recommended levels. Increasing vehicular traffic and power plants contribute to the dangerously high carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide levels in the air.

(Photo/Courtesy CHLA)

(Photo/Courtesy CHLA)

Visiting physicians to Mongolia have included pediatric physicians Richard Mackenzie, MD, director, division of adolescent medicine, and associate professor of pediatrics; Lawrence Ross, MD, adjunct professor of clinical medicine; Stuart Siegel, MD, professor and vice chair head, division of hematology-oncology; Andreas Reiff, MD, professor of clinical pediatrics; Masato Takahashi, MD; and Marilyn Woo, MD.

The group, along with Warburton, has helped to improve treatment in children’s cancer, cardiology, dysmorphology/genetics, infectious diseases, intensive care, neonatology, pulmonology, and rheumatology at the National Center for Maternal and Child Health (NCMCH) in Ulaan Baatar. With their support, the NCMCH has become a cleaner, better-equipped and technically more advanced academic medical center.

“They have listened to and appreciate our advice and are acting on it as their gross domestic product has risen and resources have become increasingly available in their country,” said Warburton. “We hope to have a major impact on urban pollution and the health of women and children in Mongolia.”