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More residents developing respiratory illnesses due to polluted air in Bangladesh

Country’s main respiratory diseases hospital treated some 210,000 patients in 2021, say officials

SM Najmus Sakib | DHAKA, Bangladesh

Rising numbers of people in Dhaka are developing respiratory illnesses in Bangladesh’s capital where clean air is rare and which continues to register one of the worst performances in a global healthy air index.

Dhaka has seen only 38 days of clean air in the last six years, according to the Center for Atmospheric Pollution Studies at Stamford University Bangladesh. It also witnessed a 7% rise in air pollution in 2021 compared to the last five years.

Dhaka was the world’s second most polluted city in 2019 and 2020, according to the Air Quality Index.

In Bangladesh, some 50,000 children die of pneumonia every year, while it is responsible for around 28% of deaths among children under 5 years old, according to the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research.

Sadia Sultana Reshma, an air health activist, told they are witnessing an alarming increase in patients with respiratory diseases.

Last year, the National Institute of Diseases of the Chest and Hospital in Dhaka treated some 210,000 patients with respiratory diseases, with 60,000 of them admitted to the hospital.

There were fewer patients admitted to hospitals in 2020, she said, citing an anonymous official.

“The situation worsening due to the bad air in Dhaka,” said Reshma, who is a respiratory disease specialist and intensive care unit consultant as well.

Contaminated air in Dhaka contains heavy metals, particles and toxic gases, including a large amount of carbon dioxide, monoxide and sulfur, she said, adding, toxic gases are mostly emitted from vehicles, brick kilns, factories, and a growing number of construction activities in the city.

“Inhaling the contaminated air causes interstitial lung disease, pneumonia or acute respiratory infections, tuberculosis and others, and we are getting such patients, including women and children, in Dhaka.

“The toxic matter stored in the lungs and long-term inhalation of contaminated air causes the lungs to be damaged. Garments workers, traffic police and public bus drivers are the worst victims of Dhaka city air pollution,” she added.

Lack of proper monitoring, law implementation

Kazi Saifuddin Bennoor, a physician at the respiratory medicine department of the National Institute of Diseases of the Chest and Hospital, said there is no real-time data on how many people are being affected by the bad air due to lack of proper monitoring in Bangladesh.

“But we are getting patients with respiratory complexity indoors and outdoors at our hospitals in a constant increase that is directly linked to the contaminated air. The number of patients with lung infections sees a 25% increase in the dry season when air pollution takes the worst look.”

Bennoor, who is also the co-secretary of the Bangladesh Lung Foundation, said “workplace air pollution has become a serious concern for countries like Bangladesh. Stone crushing and shipbreaking plants are the most unsafe places for workers, as these ‘industries’ do not provide safety equipment to workers during the unsafe jobs.”

He alleged that “we don’t see any major implementation of the concerned laws. Meanwhile, brick kilns do not follow the minimum height limit of furnaces and chimneys of brick kilns.”

Bennoor also pointed out that transboundary pollution is a cause.

“We have so many unhealthy factories and stone breaking fields in other countries along with our border areas. We should engage in a diplomatic dialogue to stop such pollution as these are violating global norms and law,” he said.

Both health experts suggested that city dwellers check daily air quality and plan outdoor activities on that basis. City authorities should also limit outdoor activities and shut schools to reduce exposure during extreme air pollution.

Women and children are also becoming victims of indoor air pollution, according to an earlier study of the experts. It showed that women in villages faced lung diseases due to long stays in the kitchen and cooking in an unhealthy manner, they added.

The government says action being taken

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Keya Khan, additional secretary of the Environmental Pollution Control Cell at the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, called the situation alarming and said the air in Dhaka is highly polluted and hospitals are seeing increasing numbers of patients.

She said that development work in Dhaka is among the causes which fuel-air pollution during the dry season but “we have already issued notifications to all concerned to cover construction materials and establishments properly to stop contamination.

“We regularly conduct drives to seal illegal brick kilns and take other punitive measures for polluting the air. We have already sent the draft Air Pollution Control Rules to the Law Ministry for approval.”

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