How Air Pollution Is Deteriorating Your Child’s Health
COVID-19 pandemic has brought the world to a standstill and brought public health to center stage. However, another public health emergency, Air Pollution, which causes 7 million premature deaths annually, has failed to get similar attention or action yet. While the COVID-19 virus may show its effects in a span of a few days, air pollution impacts our body over the years, leading to many chronic ailments and even stroke and heart attack.
The underlying toll that Air Pollution takes on respiratory and cardiovascular health over time, even makes individuals more vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19.
Studies from across the globe have proved that pollution-impacted communities are more susceptible to infectious diseases such as COVID-19.
Our children, who breathe polluted air that has toxins equivalent to smoking several cigarettes from their first breath, are the worst affected. Shockingly, this damage occurs even before a child is born. Air Pollution strikes children first when they are inside the mothers' wombs. Unequivocal evidence is available that pregnant mothers exposed to high levels of air pollution have toxic chemicals in the placenta (the link between the mother's womb and the growing baby).
Exposure to air pollution during pregnancy can lead to congenital disabilities, low birth weight, fetal deaths, and premature births.
These babies never grow to their optimum potential and have a lower brain and physical development. Over the last decade, while operating on teenagers, I often see toxic black deposits on their lungs, like those on a smoker's lung.
Outdoor air pollution levels continue to increase across India because of vehicular emissions, industrial pollution, and seasonal farm fires in parts of north India. Add to that mix the consistent sources of indoor pollution from stoves and bonfires, and stir it well with reduced wind speed and dropping temperatures through winter and you have the recipe of having the world's most polluted air.
But How Do You Escape this Slow Death?
The inevitability of exposing your loved ones to the poisonous air. No matter what area of the city you choose to dwell in, the toxic air follows. It is all around us. The pollutants are so microscopic that they slip past our body's defenses, entering deep into our respiratory and circulatory system, damaging our eyes, skin, lungs, heart, and brain. As a doctor, I am very worried about the impact these toxins will have on the health of our children.
However, this also leads me to the only solution I see to the crisis - which is mobilizing every Indian to work towards clean air to create a safe future for their children. Just as we educated ourselves in the case of COVID-19 and took every measure to protect our loved ones, we must educate ourselves about the health impacts of air pollution, understand what constitutes healthy air, and then take every step to ensure clean air. Air pollution is a severe problem that demands not just individual action but collective long-term mitigation.
Citizens must also demand their constituency’s representatives to enforce immediate, unambiguous action plans on slashing air pollution.
For us to find a way out of this mess, we need to take all measures that can protect the health of our children who need immediate care against the harmful effects of air pollution.
(Dr Arvind Kumar is Chairman, Institute of Chest Surgery, Chest Onco-Surgery and Lung Transplantation at Medanta - The Medicity, Gurugram and Founder of the Lung Care Foundation)
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