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Doctors raise the alarm bell on air pollution post COVID: Kolkata’s children, elderly & poor most affected

Kolkata: On the occasion of  National Doctors’ Day,  leading doctors from Kolkata raised an alarm bell on taking immediate measures on air p...

Kolkata: On the occasion of National Doctors’ Day, leading doctors from Kolkata raised an alarm bell on taking immediate measures on air pollution mitigation that is gradually emerging as the ‘Next big killer after COVID.’ A perception study conducted by SwitchON Foundation was presented at the doctor’s roundtable uncovered that children below the age of 10, elderly above 50 years, and people with low household incomes are the most vulnerable to health problems that can be attributable to air pollution. A virtual roundtable was organized with 5 leading doctors from Kolkata. The event was attended by over 30 educational institutions and more than 100 youth and citizens participated. 

Like COVID-19, air pollution is emerging as a serious health problem in fast urbanizing world cities. The problem of rapidly declining air quality in Bengal is becoming gruesome with each passing day, reaching its worst, particularly in the winter months. A LANCET-ICMR report of 2020 revealed that air pollution deaths in Bengal were almost 7 times higher than the total number of COVID deaths mourned by the State. 

“While we can protect ourselves from COVID-19 by isolating and getting vaccinated, it is frightening to think we do not have a remedy to the severe health risks posed by air pollution. Our immune systems are not developed to breathe toxic substances,” said Dr. Arup Halder, Consultant Pulmonologist, Woodlands Multispeciality Hospitals

As per CSIR NEERI, a massive 25% of particulate matter pollution in Kolkata comes from vehicular emissions which shows that while Kolkata’s pollution problem is increasing, it’s largely anthropogenic and hence it is solvable through stringent measures.  Vehicles are the largest contributor to air pollution in Kolkata and we must find ways to promote cycles, electric vehicles in the city at a rapid pace, or we may be staring at another health crisis in the coming years with no easy fix or anywhere to isolate. Said Vinay Jaju from SwitchON Foundation.

“Air pollution can further exacerbate co-morbidities and like COVID-19 increase vulnerability to mortality from pulmonary and cardiovascular problems. Prolonged exposure to high levels of gaseous pollutants can increase the risk of developing asthma in children, COPD, diabetes, and other life-threatening diseases” said Dr. Kaustav Choudhury, Pediatric Consultant Apollo Gleneagles Hospital

“Air pollution needs to be given priority as Kolkata is going to see a surge of health problems linked to air pollution in the coming years. There is an urgent need to address the issue, sensitize the public and urge all sectors to take stringent measures on priority” said Dr. Sanjukta Dutta, Consultant and Head, Emergency Medicine Department, Fortis Hospital, Kolkata 

“There is a need to sensitize the poor and the marginalized who are most affected as pollution in Kolkata become worse, Children, Infants and Elderly are the worst affected, and it is our moral duty to protect them by stopping air pollution,” said Dr. Suman Mallick, Clinical Director, Chief of Radiation Oncology, NH Narayana Superspeciality Hospital

 “We need to understand our health systems are already stretched beyond their limits. If we do not treat air pollution as a health emergency, we might be repeating the same scenario as was seen in the case of the COVID19 pandemic” said Dr. MV Chandrakant, Consultant Medical Oncology, Narayana Superspeciality Hospitals. 

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