Nepal | September 24, 2020

Polluted air spikes respiratory illness

The govt standard for unhealthy air is way above WHO’s

Sabitri Dhakal
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Kathmandu, December 28

Doctors have stressed precautions as patients of respiratory diseases have increased due to air pollution of late.

According to data provided by Bir Hospital, on an average 120 patients visit the respiratory Out Patient Department. The hospital runs the OPD service three times a week.

Though there is no exact data of patients suffering from respiratory ailments, the influx of patients has gone up.

During summer, between 80 to 100 patients used to visit the OPD daily.

“Pollutants in the air descend towards the surface during winter making more people susceptible to respiratory illnesses,” said Dr Ashesh Dhungana, chief of respiratory unit at Bir Hospital.

“Air pollution affects the entire body system — eyes, skin, lungs, brain and other body parts. People are at risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,” said Dr Dhungana.

Dust particles and carbon monoxide from vehicles cause both long and short term health problems. “Sore throat, skin allergies, upper respiratory tract infection and cough are some short term problems. In the long run, a patient is likely to suffer from high blood pressure, liver and cardiac problems, renal failure and skin cancer,” said Dr Kedar Narsingh KC, a chest physician.

Fine particulate matter, the product of fuel combustion from vehicles, industries and households, affects health.

Pulchowk this afternoon, recorded PM 2.5 concentration of 46.2 µg/m³. The government has said PM 2.5 concentration above 40 microgram per cubic metre is ‘unhealthy’, whereas the World Health Organisation has set the threshold at 25 µg/m3.

“PM 2.5 are tiny particles in air. These get deposited in the respiratory tract and lungs,” said Dr Dhungana.

Air Quality Data provided by the Ministry of Population and Environment, Department of Environment Air Quality Monitoring revealed that the Air Quality Index was 163 in Ratnapark, 131 in Bhaisepati and 116 in Pulchowk.

Air quality index value between 101 to 150 is considered unhealthy for sensitive groups (people with lung diseases, older adults and children) while air quality between 151 to 200 is unhealthy for all.

Air pollution affects the high risk group — people suffering from diabetes, children, elderly persons and pregnant women. People with diabetes and cardiac problems are also prone to respiratory illness because of air pollution, say doctors.

“There are high chances of pneumonia when people are exposed to pollution,” said Dr Meghanath Dhimal, chief research officer at Nepal Health Research Council.

“Young people are suffering from COPD because of air pollution,” said Dhungana.

WHO estimates that air pollution causes about 29 per cent lung cancer deaths, 43 per cent COPD deaths, about 25 per cent ischaemic heart disease deaths and 24 per cent deaths due to stroke globally.

Measures to cope with air pollution

  • Use smart energy sources for transport
  • Plant trees
  • Maintain cleanliness
  • Keep industries away from residential areas
  • Manage construction sites
  • Use standard masks

A version of this article appears in print on December 29, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.

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