SHANGLA: The patients of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in Shangla district are living in constant fear of losing life due to high vulnerability to novel coronavirus.
Many of them insist that their lungs have stopped working.
Gul Afsar, who worked in a coalmine of Hangu district for 22 years, told Dawn that his brother had died after fighting COPD for four years, while he was infected with the black lung disease, which was also called the coalminers’ pneumoconiosis (CWP).
He said his lungs had collapsed due to the disease and avoided visiting hospitals like other miners for regular checkups fearing that Covid-19 would affect him leading to their death.
Medics say patients have stopped visiting them during pandemic
Struggling to breathe, he said the CWP rendered patients vulnerable to coronavirus, which could cause pulmonary damages as well.
“We are more vulnerable to lung failure due of the virus,” he said.
The miner said the disease was prevalent in Alpuri, Kana and Puran tehsils, whose vast population was associated with coalmining.
Another resident, Rahimuddin, said he had worked as coalminer for 16 years and was diagnosed with CWP in 2014.
“I cannot breathe without having heavy medication, which causes stomach problems. I spend Rs4,000-5,000 monthly on medicines with the help of the locals,” he said.
According to the Shangla Coalmine Workers RightsAssociation,the data collected in 2018 showed that 4,934 residents suffered from CWP in the district.
Abid Yar of the association said coalmine rocks in Orakzai tribal district were full of asbestos and their drilling made miners inhale dust and therefore, they suffered from severe pulmonary problems.
Rights activist in Mian Kallay area Mian Bachasaid nine people lost life to CWP in his village in the current year.
When contacted, medical superintendent of the Shangla District Headquarters Hospital Dr Shafiul Mulk complained that the district didn’t have any pulmonologist nor ward for lung patients despite high CWP incidence.
He said coronavirus had increased such patients’ vulnerability as their respiratory system was already not working properly.
“Coronavirus is a potential threat to their [lung patients] life,” he said.
Dr Akhtar Ali, who heads the pulmonology department at the Saidu Teaching Hospital in Swat, said Shangla district had pneumoconiosis patients in large numbers but the data of coalminers down with coronavirus wasn’t available.
Assistant Professor Akhtar Ali said CWP patients needed continuous treatment and with the passage of time, their lungs stopped absorbing oxygen and they died after their lungs collapsed.
“Such patients visit pulmonologists in Swat and Peshawar for treatment but their visits have decreased during the current Covid-19 times,” he said.
Published in Dawn, December 29th, 2020