Have a Heart – Do Your Part

India is a country known for its culture, diversity, food, and now, its air pollution. 2019 saw an exorbitant spike in pollutants in the air, so much that we broke the air quality index by reaching numbers it didn’t even account for. It is safe to say everyone heard, was affected by, and even visually saw the effects of it. I was in college in Sonipat, Haryana when my friends and I woke up one morning in November, looked outside the window of our dorm room and saw a completely grey sky. The air around us was thick with smog and it made it hard to see beyond 200 metres ahead of us. The air smelled and even tasted like smoke. None of us dared to leave our rooms that day and when we did, we had to put on our pollution masks, which honestly didn’t have any effect. We decided to check the air quality in our area and much to our shock we found out the air quality index showed a whopping 1080 which signified the amount of pollutants in the air. Ideally, it should be around 0-50 to be considered normal but we had broken the barrier by over 20 times. It came as a shock to people and thus the talk about the effects of air pollution, prevention, and cure started springing up. This couldn’t be considered as a one-off incident anymore since this has been a recurring theme for the past few years right after the crop burning season in India. Other than that specific time of year, a lot of regions in India have had an average of about 150-200 AQI for a while now. As I am writing this while sitting in Gurgaon, Haryana the AQI is at 151.
Air pollution has been a constant issue in India for a long time now. 22 out of the 30 most polluted cities in the world in 2018 were in India. Air pollution has various adverse effects on people, ranging from respiratory and cardiovascular issues to even the development of cancer in some cases. The effects are dependent on the longevity of exposure to the pollutant. The most vulnerable population, other than ones with existing health problems, are the elderly and children below the age of 14. But recent studies show that air pollution has adverse effects on unborn babies in the mother’s womb as well. They lead to developmental issues in the child and some are born with congenital defects, congenital heart defect being one of them.

There have been multiple studies done to study this correlation. The most common types of air pollutants are particulate matter, O3 (Ozone), SO2 (Sulphur Dioxide), NO2 (Nitrogen Dioxide), CO (Carbon Monoxide), and lead. Rather than turning this into a science lesson, let’s just say all of these very scary sounding things are very bad for the human body. Rankin et al. in their study on Maternal exposure to ambient air pollutants and risk of congenital anomalies found a correlation between Congenital Heart Disease and exposure of the pregnant woman to SO2 during the gestation period, i.e. the period between conception and birth of the child. This study was done in the UK. Another study was done in Wuhan, China by Zhang et al. The study concluded the effects of exposure to one pollutant and two or more. When the mothers, while they were pregnant, were exposed to O3, an increase of Congenital Heart Diseases, Ventricular Septal Defect, and Tetralogy of Fallot were seen in the children that were born of these mothers. At Genesis Foundation, we frequently encounter cases of these primary types of CHDs and support the treatment of critically ill children like these. When they were exposed to two pollutants, an increase in all CHDs, VSD, and TOF were consistent as compared to exposure to just O3, and the correlation between CO exposure in the third month of pregnancy and VSD was noted. There have been more studies done to corroborate the same. But there aren’t enough. While it is safe to assume that there is a possible correlation, it is hard to come to a conclusion since there isn’t enough evidence.

Regardless, this ever-growing problem of air pollution requires an immediate remedy. If not for the sake of our current population but the upcoming youth of our country. It seems highly unfair for newly born children to suffer a life-threatening illness like CHD due to our irresponsibility and carelessness. And for the ones that are suffering, we owe it to these children to putour efforts in. If not directly for the treatment of critically ill children, but at least in the form of making our air more breathable for them. Clean air is a fundamental right and providing the same is the least one can do. CHD is the most frequently occurring congenital disorder and is challenging enough to take care of in itself. Now with the growing issue of borderline toxic air, it increases the said problem by tenfold. Rather than worsening the issue, we owe it to these children to make their lives easier by at least providing them with clean air.

One does not require a momentous event in order to start making changes, rather it should be a continuous effort. For us, for the little ones, and the health of our loved ones.

– Contributed by Ananya Ravi

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