- Pollution has killed more people than COVID, said Dr Arvind Kumar
- Pollution combined with COVID could lead to high fatality rates: Dr Guleria
- People are complaining of headaches, breathing problems: Dr Trehan
New Delhi: The Air Quality Index (AQI) in Delhi plummeted to the ‘severe’ category following the festival of Diwali as people violated the ban on firecrackers and the national capital woke up under a blanket of toxic smog. According to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), when AQI hits the ‘severe’ category, the pollution affects healthy people and seriously impacts those with existing diseases. Even after four days of Diwali, AQI is in ‘very poor’ category meaning the possible impact can be ‘respiratory illness on prolonged exposure’. But, these alarming levels of air pollution are not surprising since it’s an annual affair especially in the national capital and neighbouring areas.
But now experts are worried about the dangerous health fallout of the worsening air pollution. Dr Arvind Kumar, the Chairman of the Institute of Chest Surgery at Medanta Hospital in Gurugram said in an interview with news agency ANI,
Pollution has killed more people than COVID but it has not been given the kind of attention it deserves.
Air Pollution And Its Multifold Adverse Effects
Dr Kumar said that air pollution triggers serious health problems in children, and causes irreparable and irreversible damage. There is smog in the air and it will continue till January, he added. Citing the “Lung Care Foundation” study, Dr Kumar said,
More than 50 per cent of adolescents in Delhi have a higher incidence of chest symptoms, 29 per cent have asthma, 40 per cent are obese (200 per cent higher incidence of asthma). Children are suffering. We have found that the children are coming with chest problems. They complain of having breathing problems. In short, air pollution is adversely affecting them.
Further, Dr Kumar said that children are also suffering from problems in the brain, lung, heart, and other organs due to pollution.
Sharing similar concerns, Dr Naresh Trehan, Chairman and Managing Director, Medanta Hospitals also raised concern over the vulnerable effects of air pollution on children’s health. He said,
The younger children are very vulnerable. They are at the stage when their brain is developing and nitric toxins that come out of all the emissions affect their brain development. I think the consequence must be taken into its entirety.
Elaborating more on the adverse impact of air pollution on one and all, Dr Trehan said,
Air pollution is not only affecting lungs but also other parts of the body. Each person who has some chronic problems like heart disease will suffer hugely. Pollution directly affects the breathing of a person where you are taking in all these toxins to your lungs. Then they set up a full reaction in your body where your blood pressure can go up, your heartbeat can go up if you are already suffering from a condition of heart attacks. People are complaining of headaches and breathing problems especially those who have had asthma and other chronic lung diseases.
Highlighting the rise in hospital admission due to air pollution, AIIMS Director Dr Randeep Guleria cited a study and said,
Before COVID-19, we had done a study on the number of admissions in emergency wards. We had found that whenever the pollution level is high, the patients, especially children, get admitted to emergency wards complaining about respiratory problems.
Speaking to ANI, Dr Ashok Seth, Chairman, Fortis Escorts Heart Institute said that severe AQI levels are especially dangerous for the elderly and those with lung problems and heart disease. Dr Seth further said that pollution itself leads to chest congestion and bronchospasm. He added,
Those with Asthma, bronchitis will start getting worse. It itself predisposes to further chest infections, viral infections and cases of pneumonia. We see a lot of these happening when pollution rises. So elderly are at the biggest risk. Also, pollution is to be known for the inflammation of the heart arteries. This results in the precipitation of blood clotting leading to increased heart attacks and worsening of Angina.
Air Pollution May Lead To Severe COVID Cases: AIIMS Director Randeep Guleria
Stating that air pollution could lead to more severe cases of COVID, Dr Guleria said that pollution has a huge effect on respiratory health, especially among those who have lung diseases and asthma. As pollution and COVID-19 affect the lungs and the high level of air pollution may worsen the disease, at times resulting in the death of a patient, said Dr Guleria in an interview with ANI.
He also spoke about the two sets of data supporting the claim of pollution affecting COVID-19 patients severely. Dr Guleria said,
One data suggests that the virus may stay in the air for a longer period when the pollutants are present in the air, turning the disease into the airborne disease. While the other data which has been analysed during the SARS outbreak in 2003 says that pollution causes inflammation and swelling in the lungs. Research from the SARS outbreak in 2003 in countries like the US and Italy has shown that the areas with higher levels of pollution impact those previously affected by COVID-19, causing inflammation and lung damage. The combination of pollution and COVID-19 could lead to higher fatality rates.
When asked about the effect of air pollution on COVID recovered patients, Dr Seth said,
People who recovered from COVID are vulnerable to this (air pollution). Of this group, a lot of them got residue lung problems from minor to major. The toxic gases and particles affect the lungs directly. COVID recovered patients, too, are vulnerable. This is the time for the elderly to stay indoors, be flu-vaccinated and use air purifiers at home continuously.
Talking about air pollution and the measures taken by the government, Dr Kumar said,
Installing a smog tower is a colossal waste of public money and a grave mistake. The answer lies in preventing the air from getting polluted.
Dr Kumar also said that some drastic steps need to be taken to control pollution.
Stubble burning is one of the major areas that should be prioritised, he said.
Dr Trehan also called for decisive and concrete measures to contain the recurrent problem of air pollution. He said,
This is happening year after year and around this time every year, we have a discussion like this. But unfortunately, it has never been corrected or addressed. The decisive action needed to be taken so that does not happen again. Because when you are exposed to something like this, and people suffer, that damage is permanent.
Dr Guleria suggested that as a measure of prevention, people should wear masks, especially N95 masks and avoid going to places where the pollution level is high. He said that people should avoid going out for a morning walk when the pollution level is high.
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, that is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.