When it comes to dealing with pollution, India’s capital may have hit the end of the road. With little hope left, the doctor’s prescription to patients with respiratory diseases is: Leave Delhi.
A two-part investigative report by the Indian Express newspaper, published on March 31 and April 1, has found that moving out of the city has become the final resort for doctors treating patients with severe respiratory problems.
“The poor air quality has persisted for too long, and there is enough evidence of its link to health effects,” Dr Randeep Guleria, head of respiratory medicine at Delhi’s All Indian Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), told the newspaper.
In a report by the World Health Organisation in May last year, Delhi was declared the world’s most polluted city. In 2014, Delhi’s count of respirable suspended particulate material (RSPM) was double that of Beijing. RSPMs are tiny and toxic particles—produced by vehicles and during combustion in industries—that cause major respiratory ailments.
RSPM levels in Delhi fell sharply in the wake of a Supreme Court of India order in 1998, when the country’s apex legal body made the use of compressed natural gas, or CNG, compulsory in public transport vehicles, such as auto rickshaws and buses. However, a decade later, the levels started moving upwards—and the trend continues today.
The lack of recent action on the part of authorities is shocking. Despite at least 15 private and public studies warning about the increasing levels of air pollutants in the capital in the last seven years, the state—and the central—governments did nothing.
There has been a 300% spike in the number of cases of respiratory ailments at AIIMS, the apex government hospital in Delhi, since 2007-08. And the cases are now rising at a rate of 100 new patients every day.
Come winter, and the city is blanketed by fog brought about by suspended pollutants in the air. The fog has dramatically worsened over the years, and the number of days that fog stays in Delhi has gone up. Patients, as a result, are bearing the brunt.
A government hospital director confirmed to the newspaper that during the winter season, the hospitals “see more of patients with chronic or long-term respiratory diseases like asthma and bronchitis having complications.”
The pollution during the winter months in Delhi is much worse than the July-August period. In private hospitals, there was a jump of as much as 30% in the number of cases of respiratory ailments in the October-December period as compared to the July-August period last year.
Looks like residents of Delhi have little option but to pack their bags now.