It is ironic that a country which is renowned for its scenic greenery has its capital labelled as the 2nd most polluted city in the world in terms of air quality. According to the Global Air Report of 2017, the poor air quality in Dhaka and across Bangladesh claims over 1,22,400 lives every year.
In developing nations such as Bangladesh, the leading cause of death due to air pollution revolves around the fact that access to proper diagnosis and subsequent treatment are limited. Besides the outrageous rate of fatality, victims of air pollution are initially subjected to respiratory diseases such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), tuberculosis, asthma and lung cancer for an extended period of time.
The rise in respiratory diseases in Bangladesh is due to increasing air pollution. Dhaka scored 556 in the Air Quality Index (AQI), which is categorised as ‘extremely unhealthy’. Six common air pollutants include ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide and lead. Smoking tobacco is also a prevalent cause of respiratory diseases.
When we think about respiratory diseases, the first thing which comes to our mind is usually lung cancer. However, there are several other respiratory diseases as mentioned earlier which are briefly discussed here.
COPD: Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a broader term for describing lung diseases such as bronchitis, emphysema etc. It has a mortality rate of 27.5 per 1,00,000 of population and costs the lives of 1,035 people every year. The number of COPD patients is higher among men, primarily because 54.8% of men are tobacco users, according to a 2010 study. However, people who are exposed to tobacco smoking, dust or high intensity chemicals from air pollution can also develop COPD.
Tuberculosis (TB): It is the most prominent among all other respiratory diseases in Bangladesh. TB is an infectious disease caused by bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb). In most of the cases the infection cannot be traced in which case it is considered as ‘latent tuberculosis’. About 10% of the infection leads to active disease, which may lead to death if left untreated.
Asthma: It is a long term inflammatory disease of the airways in the lungs which causes wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath. Asthma is caused both by genetic and environmental factors. It can affect anyone at any age and is irreversible in most cases. According to National Institute of Disease of Chest and Hospital (NIDCH), 7 million people in Bangladesh are affected by asthma and half of them are children.
Lung cancer: It is the deadliest of all the respiratory diseases. Lung cancer can be characterised by uncontrolled cell growth in tissue of the lungs and it can spread to other parts of the body. The majority of lung cancer is caused by excessive smoking of tobacco. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) report published in 2014, lung cancer deaths reached 9,660 in Bangladesh, which is a staggering 1.3% of the total deaths in Bangladesh for the previous year.
Even though respiratory diseases as a whole is an epidemic in Bangladesh, a great number of people in our society are not well aware of the diseases involved. Therefore, widespread health awareness is required to reduce fatality rate caused by these deadly diseases. Special attention has to be given to teenagers and discourage them from smoking tobacco products. Public and private organisations should fund awareness campaigns. Strict laws should be implemented for industries to reduce carbon emissions. Anti-tobacco policies should be strengthened.
The article is written jointly by Muntaseer Akif, Bappy Khan, Nagib Firoz Shoumik, Rabika Raihan Mithila, Naimur Rahman, Shafrin Shafa — students of North South University, Bangladesh.