Delhi witnesses jump in respiratory problems, Air pollution biggest health risk in India says study

Air pollution is the biggest health risk in India a new global study by a US-based NGO has revealed and this has contributed to the death of 16.7 lakh people in India in 2019, with over a lakh of them less than a month old.

It’s a report on global exposure to air pollution and was released by Health Effects Institute on October 21.

“Long-term exposure to outdoor and household air pollution contributed to over 1.67 million annual deaths from stroke, heart attack, diabetes, lung cancer, chronic lung diseases, and neonatal diseases, in India in 2019,” the report said.

“Outdoor and household particulate matter pollution contributed to the death of more than 1,16,000 Indian infants in their first month of life in 2019. More than half of these deaths were associated with outdoor PM2.5 and others were linked to the use of solid fuels such as charcoal, wood, and animal dung for cooking,” as per the State of Global Air, 2020.

Evidence linking air pollution and increase in disease:
The report also said there is clear evidence linking air pollution and increased heart and lung disease, creating a growing concern that exposures to high levels of air pollution could exacerbate the effects of COVID-19.

“Although there has been a slow and steady reduction in household reliance on poor-quality fuels, air pollution from these fuels continues to be a key factor in the deaths of these youngest infants,” he said.

Infants in the first month of life are already at a vulnerable stage.
But a growing body of scientific evidence from multiple countries, including recent ICMR-supported studies in India, indicates that particulate air pollution exposure during pregnancy is linked to low birth weight and pre-term birth, the report said.

Neonatal deaths:
The new analysis reported in the State of Global Air this year estimates that nearly 21 per cent of neonatal deaths from all causes are attributable to ambient and household air pollution.

“Addressing impacts of air pollution on adverse pregnancy outcomes and newborn health is really important for low- and middle-income countries, not only because of the high prevalence of low birth weight, preterm birth, and child growth deficits but because it allows the design of strategic interventions that can be directed at these vulnerable groups,” said Kalpana Balakrishnan, an expert in air pollution and health.

Schemes of Central government:
“The Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana Household LPG programme and other schemes have helped to dramatically expand access to clean energy, especially for rural households. More recently, the National Clean Air Programme has spurred action on major air pollution sources in cities and states around the country,” it said.

Delhi air quality:
Delhi’s pollution levels remained in the ‘poor’ category on Thursday morning with the Air Quality Index recorded at 254, government agencies said.
Though pollution watchdog Central Pollution Control Board and other agencies forecast improvement in the air quality for Thursday, the AQI remained in the same category as on Wednesday.

Cases of breathing issues in Delhi:
Top doctors in New Delhi are reporting a jump in respiratory problems among its residents, coinciding with the onset of peak pollution season in India`s capital and raising concerns about complications for COVID-19 patients.
Doctors from five different Delhi hospitals told Reuters they have received twice the number of patients with respiratory illnesses such as bronchitis in the past two weeks.

“Pollutants have an inflammatory effect on the lungs and so does COVID-19,” said Dhiren Gupta,
a pulmonologist at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital in the city, which has reported more than 340,000 coronavirus cases.

Dust and smoke fill Delhi`s air every winter, making breathing difficult for adults and children alike. Government data reviewed by Reuters shows that air quality this October has been worse than in the same month in 2019 and 2018.

“We are getting more number of cases with respiratory issues but we have to run COVID-19 tests on them too,” said Hema Gupta Mittal, a senior paediatrician at Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital.

Stubble burning:
SAFAR said an increase in stubble fire count was observed around Haryana, Punjab, and neighbouring regions.

“The SAFAR synergised stubble fire counts stood at 1428 for Wednesday. The boundary layer wind direction is not fully favourable for pollutant transport towards the Delhi region. The SAFAR model estimate of stubble burning share in PM2.5 is nine per cent for today,” it said.

Red Light On, Gaadi Off:
The Delhi government has kick-started its ‘Red Light On, Gaadi Off’ anti-pollution campaign for which it has deployed 2,500 environment marshals at 100 traffic signals across the city to generate awareness and curb vehicular pollution.

The drive will go on till November 15 from 8 am to 8 pm. It is an awareness drive by the Delhi government and no person will be issued challans, the government has said.

Most polluted cities in India:
The air pollution level in Lucknow has crossed the 300-mark on the Air Quality Index, making it the third most polluted city in the country. For the first time in October, Lucknow had an Air Quality Index of 328, figuring in the very polluted category on Wednesday.

State of Global Air, 2020:
The report said overall, air pollution is now the largest risk factor for death. According to it, South Asian countries, including India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal, featured among the top 10 nations with the highest PM2.5 exposures in 2019.

“Although the full links between air pollution and COVID-19 are not yet known, there is clear evidence linking air pollution and increased heart and lung disease creating a growing concern that exposures to high levels of air pollution, during winter months in South Asian countries and East Asia, could exacerbate the effects of COVID-19,” the report stated.

“All of these countries experienced increases in outdoor PM2.5 levels between 2010 and 2019,” the report stated, adding that since 2010, more than 50 million fewer people have been exposed to household air pollution.

Air pollution kills an estimated seven million people worldwide every year.
WHO data shows that 9 out of 10 people breathe air that exceeds WHO guideline limits containing high levels of pollutants, with low- and middle-income countries suffering from the highest exposures.

From smog hanging over cities to smoke inside the home, air pollution poses a major threat to health and climate. The combined effects of ambient (outdoor) and household air pollution cause about seven million premature deaths every year, largely as a result of increased mortality from stroke, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer and acute respiratory infections.

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