Soaring pollution in Lahore fills wards with sick children

Published December 8, 2023
lahore: Mohamad Qadeer holds up a nebuliser device to the face of his daughter, who is suffering from a chest infection amid soaring air pollution, in the emergency room of Sir Ganga Ram hospital.—Reuters
lahore: Mohamad Qadeer holds up a nebuliser device to the face of his daughter, who is suffering from a chest infection amid soaring air pollution, in the emergency room of Sir Ganga Ram hospital.—Reuters

LAHORE: In the packed paediatric emergency room of a Lahore public hospital, parents holding sick children lined up for treatment this week, part of a surge of young patients caused by the air pollution crisis in Pakistan’s second most populous city.

“We are disturbed and tense,” said Mohamad Qadeer, holding a nebulising device to his three-year-old daughter Rameen’s nose, engulfing her face in a billow of steam delivering medication to ease her congested airways.

She and her one-year-old sister Inaaya are among thousands of children suffering from pollution-related health problems. Health officials estimated there has been at least a 50 per cent rise in paediatric patients due to respiratory issues exacerbated by poor air quality in the last month.

Lahore, known historically as a city of gardens, is now choking with toxic smog that placed it as the world’s worst for air quality last year.

City named one of the world’s worst cities for air quality last year due to increasingly toxic smog

As cooler temperatures took hold in November, air quality levels spiralled.

Twenty-four of the last 30 days had ‘hazardous’ or ‘very unhealthy’ air quality, according to Swiss group IQAir.

“It has gotten a lot worse than the previous years and it is affecting the health of the children,” said Dr Maria Iftikhar, senior registrar at Sir Ganga Ram hospital’s paediatric department.

Mohamad and his wife, Shazma, had tried to keep Rameen and Inaaya safe with masks and limiting time outdoors but after days of coughing and fever, the children stopped eating.

“We have been sleepless for three nights,” said Shazma, bouncing Inaaya on her knee as she held up the nebuliser to her face. More mothers and children waited nearby for their turn and a doctor rushed through the crowds with an infant in her arms, trailing a porter wheeling an oxygen canister pumping air to the baby.

“God willing, they will be better soon…” Shazma said.

Children more vulnerable

Unicef says globally outdoor air pollution contributed to 154,000 deaths of children aged below five in 2019. In Pakistan, it is one of the top five causes of death among the entire population and young children are the most severely affected along with the elderly.

“Children are physiologically more vulnerable to air pollution than adults because their brains, lungs and other organs are still developing,” said Unicef, adding children breathe twice as fast as adults, increasing exposure.

“The government should take strong measures because small kids are suffering,” said Shazia, cradling her nine-month-old son Mohammad who spent four days admitted to Sir Ganga Ram’s packed wards for a chest infection. The bed was shared by one-month-old baby Noor, suffering from pneumonia, who cried through her oxygen tubes as her grandmother tried to soothe her.

Provincial health minister Dr Javed Akram said hospitals were on high alert with beds and ventilators set aside for extra emergency cases.

Published in Dawn, December 8th, 2023

Opinion

Editorial

Little respite
03 Mar, 2024

Little respite

IS inflation on its way out? The Consumer Price Index showed that inflation dropped to 23.1pc in February from ...
More slaughter
Updated 03 Mar, 2024

More slaughter

Israel’s extremist leaders are on an apocalyptic mission to ethnically cleanse Gaza.
Without VCs
03 Mar, 2024

Without VCs

THE delay in appointing vice chancellors across Pakistan’s universities has mushroomed into a crisis, with one...
Urgent challenge
Updated 02 Mar, 2024

Urgent challenge

The incoming finance team will have to prioritise economic decisions over political considerations and personal whims.
Contempt ruling
02 Mar, 2024

Contempt ruling

AN Islamabad High Court decision penalising the city’s deputy commissioner, a senior superintendent of police and ...
Streets of death
02 Mar, 2024

Streets of death

A LIFE without a sense of permanence is one aspect of a human crisis as complex as homelessness. But the fact that...