Perils of Delhi’s Air Pollution

Doctors say continuous exposure to toxic air impacts brain development in children

“In Delhi NCR, respiratory disorders shoot up by 20 % with the increase in air pollution during festive season”

– Manzoor-ul-Hassan

The air pollution in Delhi has broken all records as Air Quality Index (AQI) already crossed alarming levels in the National Capital Region this winter. The toxicity in the air has led to a significant rise in respiratory illnesses among the population.

According to doctors, the constant exposure to severely polluted air can also impact the normal development of the brain in the children of the National Capital Region (NCR).

Delhi’s average Air Quality Index (AQI), recorded on January 17, was 795, which is one of the highest in a long time. The average AQI is based on more than 100 monitors and most of the monitors are ranging around AQI 500-1000.

This alarming situation has prompted the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) to start a research project to study the effects of air pollution on child health and development.

“There are multiple concerns which have concluded that air pollution doesn’t affect lungs and heart only, but it has a long-term impact on the brain development of a child. So, we have decided to conduct empirical research on the impact of air pollution on the health of children living in Delhi NCR,” Dr. Karan Madan, Associate Professor at the Department of Pulmonary Medicine, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi told Health Wire.

The study, titled “DAPHNE” (Delhi Air Pollution Health and Effects) has been taken up by AIIMS using air pollution sensor technology. It uses the devices fitted with high-quality sensors which help to check the exact exposure of an individual child to air pollution.

The study primarily focuses on children suffering from pulmonary diseases like asthma, bronchitis and other breathing troubles and the GPS technology helps to get clear pollution data, according to Dr. Karan.

“It will help us to know the impact of pollution on the brain development of children. The device, to be worn by children suffering from asthma or bronchitis, will give an idea of the exposure level of air pollution when one is traveling in the school bus, at home, when in school, or outdoors while playing,” he said.

The government and private hospitals of the capital city have also seen more than 20 percent rise in patients with respiratory illnesses this year as compared to last winter.

Dr. Vivek Nangia, leading pulmonologist, and Director Pulmonology at Fortis Hospital said Delhi had been going through a “serious situation” because of cases of viral infection, cough, sneezing, respiratory tract infection and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) have gone up by nearly 20 to 30 percent this year

“We have never seen so many patients with respiratory illnesses in the past. Respiratory illness has seen a steep rise since last winter because the air quality is now in a severe category in Delhi NCR,” he said

According to him, children and elderly are more prone to respiratory tract infections and asthmatic attacks while air pollution levels have gone beyond control.

“The climatic changes have helped the bacteria and viruses to mutate and becoming resistant to drugs,” Dr. Nangia added.

The emergency ward of All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi has also seen a sudden surge in such cases in January with a large number of men and women gasping for breath.

As per AIIMS doctors, the number of patients doubled since pollution levels rise after the change in the weather.

“Cases have doubled with the increase in pollution levels. This year the number of patients was highest compared to last year. Adults and children who are asthmatic are more vulnerable to risk,” said Dr. Madan.

He said the Delhi’s air quality gets worse every year because farmers burn the crop stubble and during festive season people burst crackers in large numbers despite strict court directions against it.

“People should limit stubble burning and bursting of crackers should also be banned. Due to the increase in pollution level we always see 15 to 20 percent increase in the number of patients at AIIMS, related to respiratory illnesses,” Dr. Karan said.

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