India was recently deemed to be the capital of the world when it comes to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), yet awareness of the disease remains low. World COPD Day 2019 provides an opportunity to raise awareness of the disease in the country and the plight of the many afflicted by it.
Despite the ever growing death toll, few among the public are aware of the condition. The disease has never garnered the kind of public awareness afforded to other noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) such as cancer or diabetes, even as it continues to kill and increase in prevalence.
Incidence of the disease is rising at an even increasing rate in recent years, spurred on by air pollution rates that have caused the National Capital Region to be considered a “gas chamber.” Studies are being published constantly explaining the links between pollution and lung disease (as well as a host of other conditions including heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease), yet these studies are not being translated into public health policy in India.
Awareness of the disease may be low due to the fact that COPD refers to a number of progressive lung diseases including emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and refractory (non-reversible) asthma. All of these conditions are linked by the common symptom of gradual and irreversible damage to the lungs. Cases of COPD have increased sharply in India in recent decades, increasing from 28.1 million cases in 1990 to 55.3 million cases in 2016. The disease kills more than a million people every year.
These increases coincide with India’s industrial revolution, which has seen air pollution figures reach staggering levels across many of the nation’s cities. Likewise, pollution within rural regions remains high due to practices such as crop burning, or the use of biofuels within the home.
Due to the progressive nature of these conditions, treatment outcomes and the capacity to manage the disease are highest in their earliest stages. However, due to a lack of awareness of the condition — or, simply through a lack of access to diagnostics services — many will not be diagnosed until the symptoms are either life-altering or life-threatening.
Owing to the considerable death toll, India must do more to raise awareness of COPD. In addition, major risk factors such as pollution must be addressed. Otherwise, India will continue to face an ever-growing burden of COPD – to say nothing of the numerous other NCDs that result from poor air quality.