Unhealthy lifestyle and worsening air pollution have turned Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) into a major killer in Mumbai. Every day, nearly six people lose their lives to this chronic inflammatory lung disease, showed data from Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC).

Between 2016 and 2021, a total of 14,396 people in Mumbai have succumbed to COPD— the common lung disease causing restricted airflow and breathing problems in which the lungs can get damaged or clogged with phlegm. With this calculation, on an average, 2,399 die every year due to COPD.

Data obtained under Right to Information (RTI) from the BMC showed that in 2016, a total of 2,442 died of bronchitis, which slightly increased to 2,490 in 2017. In 2018, it further increased to 2,745 and dropped to 2,513 in 2019.

After the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, due to early robust screening of symptomatic respiratory diseases, people with non-Covid respiratory infections got treatment on time, which helped bring down the fatalities. In 2020, the fatalities dropped to 2,120 and further to 2,088 in 2021. The data of 2022 is still under examination.

COPD is a preventable disease but has no cure and the person suffering from the health condition will find the symptoms deteriorating over time if not treated timely. “The smoking habit and pollution are the main risk factors for COPD. In the past few years, we have also seen a rise in COPD cases among women due to growing smoking habits,” said Dr Jalil Parker, a senior pulmonologist with Lilavati Hospital.

He also outlined that people with COPD have higher risk of other health problems like lung cancer, pneumonia, weak muscles and brittle bones among others. The symptoms generally start from mid-life onwards. As COPD progresses—people find it more difficult to carry out their normal daily activities, often due to breathlessness.

Along with this, outdoor and indoor air pollution further worsens the condition. PM 2.5 denotes particulate matter which is less than 2.5 microns in size. They are of concern because bigger particles are trapped by natural filters in the nose and respiratory system but PM2.5 can reach up to the respiratory bronchioles and alveoli where all the gas exchange happens. Thus, PM2.5 has the potential to gain access to internal organs.

Dr Sarthak Rastogi, consultant-pulmonology at SL Raheja Hospital, Mahim explained that one doesn’t develop COPD due to a sudden exposure to air pollution. After years of constant inhibition of the pollutants, their hearts become weak. “These patients have a higher risk of fatalities,” said Rastogi.

COPD is considered as the major public health problem. Compared to other chronic respiratory diseases, like asthma, bronchitis, cardiovascular diseases— COPD is increasingly the most common cause of deaths. For instance, between 2016 and 2021, a total of 1,220 patients in Mumbai succumbed to bronchitis — an inflammation of the lining of bronchial tubes, which carry air to and from the lungs in Mumbai. While, a total of 642 patients lost their lives to cardiovascular diseases. Similarly, in the same consecutive time period, 7,069 were declared dead due to asthma.

An analysis of the ward-wise data shows that slums have the most number of deaths. The M-East ward that covers Govandi which includes the ward that ranks lowest in the human index development —reported 675 deaths due to COPD. Similarly, K-East ward that covers Andheri (East)— witnessed 971 deaths.

This can also contribute to indoor pollution. Most of the slum dwellers still use wood or charcoal for cooking.

“Long-term indoor exposure to wood smoke is five times more dangerous to outdoor air pollution. In our area, we see a higher number of COPD cases among women than men,” said Shaikh Faiyaz Alam, president of NGO Govandi New Sangam Welfare Society from M-East ward who filed the RTI application.

This trend is mimicked across the world as COPD is the third leading cause of death worldwide, causing 3.23 million deaths in 2019, as per World Health Organization (WHO).

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