Carry on doctor

  • 14/07/1998

PEOPLE in India have by and large been ignorant of pollution and have remained unconcerned about environmental issues. But the problems of pollution forced residents of Delhi to look up and ask whether pollution in the city has been affecting their health? The answer they received recently was strange, to say the least.

To a lay person it would appear that pollution does affect health. Surprisingly some doctors do not agree. Neither does the doctor-turned politician, Harsh Vardhan, who is today Delhi's health minister.

If recent reports in the press are to be believed, a study conducted by the Centre for Occupational and Environment Medicine at the Maulana Azad Medical College states that pollution does not cause diseases like asthma, heart ailments or allergy, as most mortals believe.

What is surprising is that Harsh Vardhan seems to agree with the study. Are the doctors and the minister then wishing away the health-damaging effects of pollution? Is all this an exercise at resorting to an age-old solution? If you can't solve a problem, convince the people that it isn't a problem. In a recent statement, Harsh Vardhan has almost gone on to assure residents of Delhi that they need not worry about the increasing levels of pollution in the city because there is no evidence to link it to the incidence of disease.

Unfortunately Delhi already has the embarrassing status of being the fourth-most polluted city in the world and is already competing with Mexico City for the top spot. This is good reason not to believe in the words of the Maulana Azad doctors. Therefore, if you are a sceptic you might still want to keep your gas-mask handy for, in another five years, it will be the only way to ensure that the air you breathe is safe.

The newspaper report has quoted Harsh Vardhan as saying, "There is no evidence to relate pollution to heart, lung and skin diseases.' Perhaps, the minister would like to take some time off from his busy schedule to explain why 10,000 deaths occur in Delhi annually due to diseases that have been medically diagnosed as "pollution-related'.

The health minister went on record to state, "All pollution does is show symptoms of, say, asthma, but it does not cause fresh cases of the disease.'

The Maulana Azad study and this statement are clearly an attempt to oversimplify the issue. The study also tries to brush aside the glaring evidence supplied by reports from across the globe that show

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