New Delhi: The air quality in Delhi continues to be in the ‘very poor’ category with the overall Air Quality Index (AQI) reported to be 303, as per the Central Pollution Control Board. The exposure to high levels of air pollution increases the risks of low birth weight and preterm birth, according to a study published in ScienceDirect – “Maternal air pollution exposure increases the risk of preterm birth”. Besides, the pollution also increases the risks of congenital malformations and neonatal mortality, the study said. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) report on the effects of air pollution among children, nearly 93 per cent (1.8 billion) of the world’s children under the age of 15 years breathe poisonous air every day. Furthermore, air pollution is responsible for one out of every ten deaths in children under the age of five, as well as 20% of newborn deaths.
Dr. Anupam Sibal, senior paediatrician and group medical director at Apollo Hospitals, spoke to the NDTV-Dettol Banega Swasth India team about the rising levels of air pollution and its impact on the health of children and expectant mothers.
NDTV: What are the effects of Delhi’s current air pollution levels on children and infants?
Dr. Anupam Sibal: There is a lot of concern among parents as to how the current level of pollution in Delhi is impacting the health of their children. Let’s understand how a child’s body is different from that of an adult. If we look at the respiratory rate of a child, it is way higher than an adult. Children will be affected more than adults by the same level of air pollution. The other important thing is the difference in the size of an airway in a child’s body and an adult, and due to this, the secretions that get produced because of the exposure to the pollution causes more narrowing in terms of the air flow, which results in more symptoms. That is why, children without any respiratory history are also severely affected. The symptoms of children with histories of asthma or bronchitis are more pronounced.
NDTV: What are the long-term effects of air pollution among children?
Dr. Anupam Sibal: There are some studies that have shown a correlation between prolonged exposure to air pollutants, the cognitive development of a child and the rise in premature births. But, we are still susceptible to what can be the definitive long-term effects of air pollution. Speaking of general effects, air pollution makes nasal allergies worse. It leads to eye-irritation, bronchitis, etc.
NDTV: How can children and parents get back to the normal routine disrupted by air pollution?
Dr. Anupam Sibal: Just as COVID-19 was coming under control, the issue of air pollution arose. As paediatricians, we are advising parents to look at the types of physical activities their children are involved in. We are returning to a more restrictive lifestyle, so we must encourage our children to participate in physical activities where they are not exposed to as much air pollution.
NDTV: What are your recommendations for expectant mothers and newborns?
Dr. Anupam Sibal: As paediatricians, we look after newborns, quite often interact with pregnant women, and sometimes conduct consultations with women who are expecting their first child. So, what can we do to keep newborns away from the rising pollution levels? Well, they really remain at home for most of the time, but a little walk outside is beneficial for the baby and the mother, however, that is not something desirable in the environment we live in today. So, indoors is preferred. As far as expectant women are concerned, we always encourage them to continue their exercises and maintain a routine, specifically indoors.
NDTV: What are the dos and don’ts for parents and children?
Dr. Anupam Sibal: The first recommendation for parents, children, and expectant and new mothers is primarily awareness about the environment they are living in and going outdoors when it is feasible. Adults can use a mobile application that provides the city’s accurate Air Quality Index (AQI).When it comes to going out for a walk and exercising outside, we must choose a time of the day when the AQI levels are lower. Masking is another important factor, and a good N95 is advised. One good thing that the COVID-19 pandemic did was make masking a part of our routine. One can consider keeping indoor plants like spider plants, chinese evergreens, snake plants, etc., in their homes as it helps in improving the air quality. For people, who have the resources, they can purchase air purifiers as they come in handy.
Dr. Sibal stressed the importance of adults in the family initiating decisions to protect their children. He said,
We need to realise that they don’t have a voice, we are their voice. We have to protect our future generation and we must do everything in our power to get a handle on pollution.