An estimated 20 million people breathe air that’s the worst of any city in the world, patients young and old are streaming into hospitals with respiratory ailments at a rate growing like never before. Two tiny rooms and a staff of seven is all that’s there in the entire country to study why people are falling ill and what can be done.
Welcome to these dimly lit rooms on the ground floor of the Maulana Azad Medical College (MAMC), home of the only course on Occupational and Environment Health among the 398 medical colleges listed on the official website of the Medical Council of India.
One of those rooms is the workplace of the Centre’s director Dr T K Joshi, and the other, of its six other staff: an epidemiologist, a field investigator and four administrative staffers.
According to Dr Joshi, that the aim of their three-month course for doctors is to address the “dire shortage” of indigenous research on environmental health in India. But he admitted that it has not really taken off due to a combination of factors, including the apprehension that it “does not add to your employment value”.
Since it was set up in 1998, over 1,000 doctors have completed the December-February course and obtained a Certificate in Industrial Health, which is recognised only by the Ministry of Labour and not by MCI.
“We get faculty members from the US, UK and other countries that are doing a lot of work on environmental health and who come on their own expense because they are passionate about the discipline. But our funds are strained so there is no investment for a separate research wing,” Dr Joshi told The Indian Express.
“It has been clear since the beginning of this century that environment would be a major determinant of public health. To meet environmental health challenges from exposure, you need baseline data, but we have seen negligible government attention in this critical field,” he added.
According to Dr Joshi, one reason why this course never really took off was lack of “incentive”. “It has been restricted to a purely academic pursuit. If we had set up at least 40 such departments in the last decade we would have produced so much research, which would in turn have forced the industry also to open up,” he said.