Panel of Doctors issue a comprehensive Health Advisory calling Air Pollution a “medical emergency” on National Pollution Control Day

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Kolkata: A comprehensive health advisory ratified by leading Doctors and Health Practitioners from across West Bengal was issued at a press conference organised by the SwitchON Foundation in association with ‘Doctors for Clean Air’ (DFCA) forum at the press club earlier today

The health advisory provides numerous ways in which citizens can prevent impact from air pollution. It laids out various preventive measures and practices that should be adopted in everyday life by citizens to better prepare from the onslaught of polluted winter days.  The advisory comes at a time when citizens are already stressed with probable risk of another COVID-19 wave across the country. With earlier findings suggesting a significant correlation between district level air pollution data and COVID-19 cases.

Dr. Suman Mallik from NH Narayana Superspeciality hospital attending the press conference on behalf of the panel stated – “We all need to do our part to keep everyone healthy. Doctors across the world have been warning about the potential risk to human health posed by air pollution, but it has been underestimated until now. However, tackling it could be the greatest health opportunity for the Govt. Health Reform Programme, as well as providing direct co-benefit to human health for an entire generation to come.”

Also attending the Press Conference Dr Arup Halder, Consultant Pulmonologist, Woodlands Multispeciality Hospitals stated: “In terms of deaths, India ranks first globally related to Asthma deaths and second related to COPD deaths.  Though in other countries COPD is known as a disease of the smokers, in India we see the majority of ‘non-smoking COPD’. So in our country the major risk factors for COPD are – ambient air pollution, household air pollution and occupational air pollution.”

Dr. Arvind Kuamar – Founder Trustee Lung Care Foundation, through a video message has stated: “It’s actually a Pan India problem today and it starts showing its ill effects even before we are born, when the child is in mothers womb, that is when air pollution starts having its effect – It affects us from the very first breath of life !”

The event held today coincides with the National Pollution Control Day, which is observed on December 2 every year in memory of those who suffered and lost their lives in the horrific 1984 Bhopal Gas Tragedy. This year marks the 37th anniversary of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy. It is observed as a reminder to all of the extent of damage environmental degradation like air pollution can have on human life. The chronic exposure to air pollution has large similarity with thefateful incident occurred due to the accidental discharge of the toxic chemical gas methyl isocyanate and other toxic gases from the Union Carbide chemical plant in Bhopal on the night of December 2, 1984.

Dr Kaushik Chaki, Executive Committee Member, West Bengal Doctors Forum attending the event stated: “Children face special risks from air pollution because their lungs are growing” He further added by saying “Industrial workers have been facing many health related issues like pneumoconiosis, asbestosis, silicosis apart from mental health related issues and many other occupational health issues. These groups must be taken care of with adequate and appropriate prevention measures as well as post exposure care and support.”

Doctors attending the press conference called upon all stakeholders to understand the magnitude of this problem. It’s killing millions of people, It’s causing disease, disability, and it’s causing huge economic loss to the country. For megacities like Kolkata, residents are on track to lose more than 9 years of life expectancy if 2019 concentrations persist.  As per an earlier study, on average, people in India would live 5.9 years longer if their country met the WHO guideline. Since life expectancy at birth is currently 71 years in India, this suggests that reducing particulate pollution to the WHO guideline throughout the country would raise the average life expectancy to about 77.  A 2019 analysis states – Around 510 million people, all in northern India would live at least 8.5 years longer on average. These people represent nearly 40 percent of India’s current population.

Dr Surendri Bannerjee, Resident, Radiation Oncology, IPGME&R & SSKM Hospital, Kolkata stated : “Smoking various forms of tobacco, both actively and passively, must be avoided on a regular basis. Our focus on lung well being is not just to reduce the incidence of allergic & inflammatory lung conditions leading to respiratory distress, but also to eliminate the bigger killer, lung cancer, which has a markedly poor prognosis.”

PM2.5 concentration on an average in Kolkata air is currently 20 times above the WHO. While the AQI level in Kolkata is currently around 226 in the month of November 2021. Based on PM2.5 concentration for the past couple of years, the region is expected to witness – high levels of pollution in the coming months.

Vinay Jaju, Founder SwitchON Foundation later concluded the event: “Health professionals are calling the air pollution and health emergency, they have laid down a clear health advisory which the state government must take up and implement. He further added stating – “Vehicular emissions are the largest emitters and the city needs to prioritise Cycles, Walking and Public Transport on an urgent basis.”

Key takeaways from the Health Advisory:

  1. Every person should be aware of the pollution in his surroundings. Particularly vulnerable people with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children.
  2. For people with respiratory problems, avoid gardens and plants: pollens might trigger an attack. Keep your inhalers with you if you can’t avoid going out;
  3. Wear N95 masks on, ensure it fits snugly, avoid touching the outer surface of the mask and finally, avoid areas with a lot of smoke
  4. Don’t burn wood or trash. Don’t be in the area where this is happening.
  5. Look for ways to reduce pollutant emissions, including burning less fuel. Telecommute, carpool, vanpool, bicycle, or walk when possible.
  6. Eat lower on the food chain; choose vegetables and plants over meat a day or more during the week 
  7. Setup Indoor Air Purifying Plants, run a high-efficiency home air purifier or clean the air in your personal space.
  8. Keeping children indoors in the house as much as possible, giving them water and other liquid at regular intervals, berating indoor exercise.