All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) Director Randeep Guleria Thursday said there had been a “paradigm shift” in the nature of diseases in the country, and that air pollution was a major reason for it. He also said that Delhi’s pollution levels had become worse than in “pre-CNG era” because of the lack of vision.
Dr Guleria was delivering the ninth P N Srivastava Endowment Lecture on ‘Air Pollution and Health’ at Jawaharlal Nehru University. Dr Guleria informed the audience how air pollution had caused and contributed to major and newer diseases. “In 1990, almost 60 per cent diseases were communicable, maternal, neo-natal and nutritional diseases. That figure has now come down to around 32 per cent. Non-communicable diseases, on the other hand, have gone from around 30 per cent in 1990 to around 55.4 per cent in 2016. This has meant a huge change in terms of health care providers too,” he said.
Giving examples of diabetes and hypertension, he said these were “life-long diseases” and “that’s why government is also focussing on early screening of blood pressure and sugar”. “In 2016, most common causes of DALY (disability affected life year) — years lost due to ill-health — were ischemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diarrhoeal disease, lower respiratory tract infection and cerebral vascular disease. And the leading cause of this is malnutrition, air pollution, dietary habits, high systolic blood pressure,” he said.
Guleria said in the pre-CNG era also, there was a huge pollution problem. “Whenever levels of pollution were high, there was an increase of almost 20 per cent of emergency room visits for asthma, COPD (at AIIMS). Because of the noise made by the vehicles previously, CNG was introduced, following which the levels of pollution in the early 2000s came down, but we did not have the vision to sustain that,” he said.
“Over the next decade, with diesel vehicles plying on roads, construction work being carried out at a lot of places but with no planning in terms of having a green corridor or encouraging environment-friendly means of travel like cycling, pollution levels have become worse than in pre-CNG era,” he added.
He said human health was affected by “genetic predisposition and the environment”. “Genetic loads the gun but environment pulls the trigger… I see a lot of individuals who come to Delhi to study or for a job. These are the people who have never had any problem, but they start complaining of cough or chest congestion after they start living in the capital,” said Guleria.