SC to the government: Tackle pollution before implementing Modicare

By Manali Joshi

The Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced a flagship National Health Protection Scheme on 1st February while presenting the 2018-19 Union Budget. The scheme comprised of providing up to Rs 5 lakh to 10 crore poor and vulnerable families per year for secondary and tertiary care hospitalization. The total estimated beneficiaries are found to be 50 crore people who will be a part of this scheme.

The announced scheme is envisaged to be the world’s largest government-funded healthcare programme. The scheme also involves a funding of Rs 1,200 crore for 1.5 lakh wellness health centres in the country and Rs 600 crore for nutritional support to Tuberculosis patients in India. Lastly, under the initiative, Rs 500 will be provided to each TB patient undergoing treatment. The government also announced the involvement of 24 medical colleges as a part of the new initiative to achieve an optimum level of healthcare.

Tackle the pollution crisis first

Though this initiative is considered to be an ambitious healthcare scheme to provide the optimum level of secondary and tertiary hospitalization facilities to around 10 crore people, the Supreme Court on Monday raised a valid point. It reminded the government that such a programme would not be beneficial till the pollution crisis is prioritized and effectively tackled before undertaking such an ambitious project. The bench consisting of Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta said that 13 out of 20 most polluted cities of the world are in India and hence, it is extremely important to fight the ever-growing pollution crisis as it is the root of all health-related issues. The bench said, “All your healthcare programme would go haywire if pollution is not controlled. People will keep falling sick because of pollution”. Hence the Supreme court ordered the authorities to work together to battle the menace of pollution which would automatically turn into a boon and would aid in improving the health status of not only present generation but also the future generations.

Moreover, it is the fundamental right of every citizen to breathe fresh air, which could be attained by the beneficiaries only with the help of the government’s holistic approach and not through a superficially analyzed scheme.

The deplorable state of Indian ‘air’

Today we are in a very critical state. Pollution is not confined to National Capital Region. It is across the country and situation is getting worse with each passing year”. This was said by the court-appointed amicus curiae in this matter, Advocate Aprajita Singh. The statement is very much true as the irresponsibility on our part was strikingly observed in various environmental performance reports. Last year in the month of December, the Indian Medical Association declared India’s capital city New Delhi to be in a state of Public Health Emergency as it was cloaked by toxic smog with pollution levels rising beyond the acceptable standard. The U.S. Embassy air pollution tracker in New Delhi revealed the levels of Air Quality Index (AQI) at 728, which was far beyond the permissible standard of 300, which the authorities believe is hazardous. The high statistical number was a jerk not only to the government but also to the citizens of the country, that in such a circumstance even healthy people can face serious respiratory problems. This was followed by a high AQI record of 258 and 253 in the months of December and January, reported in Mumbai.

Moreover, the recently published EPI Report 2018, has ranked India 177th out of 180 countries in the overall category of EPI. India came 178th in the air quality index and at the absolute bottom in the environmental health category. The report analyzed the cause and clearly established that in the past decade there has been a rise in deaths due to air pollution to the ultra-fine PM 2.5 pollutants. As per the Global Burden of Disease estimates for 2017, early deaths related to PM 2.5 in India are the second highest in the world. An epidemiological study done by Central Pollution Control Board and Chittaranjan National Cancer Institute of Kolkata showed that every third child has reduced lung function. According to neonatologist Professor Neelam Kler, at the Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, pollution is the major cause of ever-growing health problems these days. According to him and the statistics being proof, a spectrum of health problems, ranging from allergies and respiratory conditions, malformations, growth restrictions and even an increased incidence of cancer, have all rooted from the increased level of pollution.

What does the situation demand?

Environmental sanitation is a key to the public health issue in India. It envisages promotion of health of the community by providing a clean environment and breaking the cycle of disease. It depends on various factors that include hygiene status of the people, formulating strategies to keep the environment clean, more use of renewable resources, promoting cultural factors related to environmental sanitation, political commitment, and legislative holistic approach to be adopted by the government in order to destroy the root of all health problems.

Featured Image Source: jepoirrier on Visualhunt / CC BY-SA