Air pollution causes 40% deaths in patients with chronic illnesses: AIIMS Director

“Experience in AIIMS shows that whenever there is a spike in air pollution, the number of patients in OPDs increases in the next 5-6 days,” Guleria said.
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New Delhi: Noting that air pollution is a silent killer, Randeep Guleria, Director at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), said that it contributes to up to 40 per cent deaths in patients with chronic illnesses and neonatal fatalities.

“The global burden disease published in Lancet shows that in 2019, air pollution was the fourth leading cause of mortality and third for disability-adjusted life years. Air pollution is a silent killer which makes it difficult for the policymakers to understand,” he said.

“We must focus more on the chronic effects of pollution such as diabetes, lower respiratory tract disease, lung cancer, stroke or neonatal deaths – there is enough data to say that around 20 to 40 per cent of deaths in these diseases are caused by air pollution,” Guleria said.

He was speaking at the second Good Air Summit organised by the Integrated Health & Wellbeing (IHW) Council.

Guleria also said that more than smoking tobacco, pollution contributes to developing diseases such as lung cancer, COPD and heart disease. “These are acute effects,” he added.

The AIIMS chief also shared that within a few days of spike in air pollution levels, the influx of patients increased in the hospital’s OPDs.

“Experience in AIIMS shows that whenever there is a spike in air pollution, the number of patients in OPDs increases in the next 5-6 days,” Guleria said.

Union Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Prakash Javadekar, also attended the summit. Accepting that pollution is a sensitive issue and a serious challenge, he expressed hope that the newly-constituted Commission for Air Quality will reduce pollution in the national capital.

“We introduced the idea of measuring air quality and brought the concept of AQI. The Sameer app of the Central Pollution Control Board provides hourly update of the national Air Quality Index (AQI). I am hopeful that the Commission for Air Quality Management will reduce pollution further,” Javadekar stated.

Meanwhile, Kamal Narayan, CEO, IHW, complained that air pollution did not receive the kind of response it required either from the government or the citizens, despite being an evident health emergency.

“The data from ‘State of Global Air 2020’ shows that 1.67 million or 17 lakh people die annually due to air pollution that comes to around 4,700 deaths per day. Which means around half a million more people fell prey to air pollution last year than the number of lives claimed by Covid-19 virus till date, globally. However, despite being a super-killer and an evident health emergency, air pollution did not get the emergency response either from the system, or from the people,” he said.

Commenting on the issue, Swatanter Kumar, retired Supreme Court judge and former chairperson of the National Green Tribunal (NGT), said that protection of the environment is a constitutional obligation of both the government and the citizens.

“Protecting the environment is a constitutional obligation for the citizens and a constitutional duty of the governments. We don’t need more laws but better implementation of the existing frameworks. We need holistic, pragmatic and practical solutions for intergenerational equity and examine the sources of cleaner energy as well,” he said.

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