Air Pollution may further impact coronavirus patients – Doctors

Amalendu Upadhyaya
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Those in polluted regions and with compromised lung function asked to take extra care; Government urged to reduce Air Pollution for long-term impacts

New Delhi 17 March 2020: A collective of doctors working on the health impacts of air pollution has warned that people living in regions with high levels of air pollution and with compromised lung function could be more vulnerable to the impacts of coronavirus (COVID19).

Doctors For Clean Air (DFCA) has warned that compromised lung function due to air pollution could lead to serious complications in patients affected by the COVID19 pandemic.

“Exposure to air pollution in long term reduces the capacity of organs to function fully and makes it more vulnerable to infections and diseases. In the context of the current COVID19 pandemic, such individuals are likely to face severe complications”, said DFCA.

There are so far no proven links between air pollution and COVID19 mortality. However, previous strains of coronavirus like SARS have been known to cause higher deaths in regions with high levels of air pollution. A study, which appeared in Environmental Health: A Global Access Service Source, compared SARS death rates and air pollution levels in five different regions of China between April and May 2003, when the majority of SARS cases were diagnosed. Researchers found that SARS death rates increased as pollution levels increased, ranging from about 4% in regions with low air pollution to 7.5% and 9% in regions with moderate or high air pollution levels, respectively.

DFCA has asked the members of the public, especially those who live in polluted urban centers and those who have pre-existing conditions of lung or heart diseases, to take extra precautions of maintaining hygiene, social distancing and immediately seeking medical help in case they show symptoms of cold, fever and breathlessness.

DFCA has also urged the Government to formulate long-term plans to reduce air pollution in the country. It has sought for stricter enforcements of thermal power plant emission norms, regulation of emissions from diesel and petrol vehicles and strict enforcement of construction and solid waste norms so that the sources of air pollution can be tackled.

“The only way for India to fight COVID19 or future pandemics would be if it’s environment is protected. This pandemic as made us realise the value for clean air and this should be a key lesson going forward in building resilience in our country”, added DFCA.

Every year, 12 lakh Indians die from breathing poor quality air. Air pollution is one of India’s biggest killers. Globally, outdoor air pollution caused three million premature deaths in 2012 – roughly the same as the toll from malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS combined. Pollution affects our health and quality of life throughout the life course, with evidence of links to cancer, asthma, stroke, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, changes linked to dementia, and harmful effects on the fetus and young child. In Delhi, one in every 4 children has irreversible lung damage. This crisis is costing India 3% of it’s GDP annually. Despite these well-documented consequences, 92 per cent of the world’s population lives in places where air quality levels exceed the World Health Organization’s guidelines.

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