Despite the advances in medical science, the world is still plagued by a variety of diseases. Chronic diseases are on the rise, while infectious diseases are staging a comeback. Such a double burden is often higher in low to middle-income countries like ours due to the lack of a concerted effort to combat the risk factors.
Among the chronic health conditions, different lung diseases are causing serious problems in Bangladesh. A joint study by the University of Dhaka and Dhaka Medical College researchers revealed that among many lung conditions, COPD or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease could be the highest, accounting for a prevalence of about 12.5 per cent, which is considerably more than many neighbouring countries. This is closely followed by Asthma and Lower respiratory tract infections. In addition, lung cancer is also rising fast.
But why are diseases on the rise? It can be linked to the wide presence of risk factors, including outdoor and indoor air pollution, absence of workplace safety measures, smoking etc.
Air pollution may be a huge contributing factor to the rise. According to the World Air Quality Index (AQI) Report in 2021, Bangladesh was the most polluted country in the world and Dhaka was ranked as the second most polluted city. The ranking may have changed, but the fact remains. We are breathing in highly polluted air, and of course, our lungs are not going to be healthy.
According to World Health Organization (WHO), air pollution is responsible for many types of lung disease. WHO estimates that air pollution is the reason for 43 per cent of deaths due to COPD and around 30 per cent of lung cancer deaths.
The AQI report also showed that the life expectancy of average Bangladeshis is getting cut by 6.7 years due to bad air quality, which may be associated with chronic lung diseases.
Climate change can play a role as well. For example, a World Bank report in 2021 highlighted increasing temperatures and precipitations in the country. Such a rise has been demonstrated to increase the incidences of respiratory infections significantly.
How do we suspect our lungs are not healthy?
American Lung Association listed some warning signs. A cough lasting for at least eight weeks, breathlessness, unexplained chest pain lingering for more than a month, blood with the cough etc., are signs that you should talk to your physician.
So what can we do to minimize the risks? Let’s go back to American Lung Association, as they shared some helpful tips. Quitting smoking is first and foremost since this is the primary reason for lots of lung diseases. Even if someone is not a smoker, second-hand smoking could harm his/her lungs. So houses and cars should be kept smoke-free.
Protective measures, like a face mask, may reduce exposure to outdoor air pollution. Healthy lifestyle practices, e.g. regular hand washing and good oral hygiene, are recommended. Reducing visits to crowded areas during flu season and getting vaccinated against influenza, pneumonia, and COVID-19 are all good precautionary measures. Regular health check-ups and being physically active can also go a long way to help keep your lungs healthy.