Delhi government’s lung function tests conducted during the 15-day run of the odd-even policy have thrown up an overall impairment rate of about 34 per cent, but experts associated with the project caution they do not know at this stage if these results are linked only to air pollution.
Of the 3,019 people tested, 1,037 were found to have restrictive or obstructive lung function ailments, said Dr Suneela Garg, professor of community medicine in Maulana Azad Medical College (MAMC) Monday. Restrictive category includes problems in inhaling capacity of the lungs, while the obstructive category is about problems in expiration rates.
The tests were voluntary and conducted at 10 sites across the city by Maulana Azad Medical College (MAMC) to assess the respiratory health of the population. The people tested were between the age of 18 and 60 years and citizens of Delhi for a minimum of five years.
“We do not know if this condition is due to air pollution. We have taken a history of smoking habits, or exposure to smokers, and the use of chulhas or stoves for cooking — high risk behaviour which could impair lungs. Our teams have also collated possible exposure to pollution from garbage burning or traffic congestion in areas where we conducted the tests. We now have to analyse to what extent these findings are associated with pollution,” said Dr Garg, who headed the project.
According to the findings, two catchment areas have emerged to be of particular concern, said Dr Garg. Gokulpuri in northeast Delhi has shown an impairment rate of 48.25 per cent, of both restrictive and obstructive type, and Delhi Gate near Jama Masjid area has shown a 28.51 per cent impairment rate. “It is almost one in five and one in three each, in these two areas. These are catchment areas so the population is defined and if they are showing such levels of impairment, it is worth investigating the reasons. We will be revisiting these areas after completing our assessment,” said Dr Garg.
In both the areas, those who tested positive have a history of consuming tobacco in some form. In Gokulpuri, which has a high migrant population, many of those tested use chulhas, a source of high indoor air pollution, according to doctors.
According to the findings, Delhi Secretariat, which sees a mixed population of government employees, police personnel, and visitors, has the highest lung impairment of 48.6 per cent. Connaught Place, which also sees a mixed population, mostly those who just exited the Metro station where the lung function testing counter was set up, reported an impairment finding of 42.9 per cent. “For these two areas, we have to see if there are any trends, if people from a particular part of Delhi are reporting higher impairment, or if those from specific professions have more lung function problems than others. Since the population is not fixed here, it merits a more detailed analysis of the findings,” said Dr Garg.
At the testing centre in Shadipur, located near an industrial area in West Delhi, tests could be conducted on two days only due to a shortage of spirometry machines. Here, of 52 people tested, 35 were found to have lung impairment.
“It could be a matter of chance, but the findings are very high here. So, ideally we would like to return here, and conduct tests on a larger sample for better findings,” said Dr Garg.