Dr. Arvind Kumar is the Chairman, Centre for Chest Surgery and Director, Institute of Robotic Surgery at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital. For the last three years, Dr. Kumar has been playing a leading role as an advocate for action on air pollution through his social initative- Lung Care Foundation. Earlier this year, he wrote a passionate op-ed in the Washington Post about the impact of air pollution on people’s health in India. He was also instrumental in setting up the Doctors for Clean Air initiative in India (more).
A short Q&A with Dr. Kumar:
What led you to work on air pollution?
Noticing black spots on the lungs of adults (initially) and then even teenagers which is a direct impact of air pollution. This was a kind of silent damage inside the chest which I was observing, which people were not aware because you cannot peep inside your lungs and see what’s happening. As someone privy to this damaging and very disturbing development, I was prompted me to come out and share this information with people, to apprise them of the silent damage that was happening inside their body, thereby urging them to take corrective measures.
Doctors lend a very important voice to the fight against air pollution. How is Lung Care Foundation engaging them?
At Lung Care Foundation, two of the four founder trustees doctors. This is a doctor-driven initiative and these doctors are further connected with large number of doctors across the country. We have realized that doctors can be very strong advocates for building public opinion against air pollution. We want to engage the doctors from across the country, urging each and every one of them to become advocates for clean air in their respective cities. If millions of doctors become advocates for clean air or messengers of clean air in their respective cities, we believe that it will start a public outcry which ultimately will force the policy makers to take the drastic measures which need to taken to tackle the problem of air pollution, which they are not taking today for the fear of public reprisal. But instead of feared public reprisal, if there is a strong public demand the law makers will find it easy and will resort to drastic measures. This is the reason why we are working hard on engaging largest possible number of doctors from across the country as advocates for clean air.
How can we increase public engagement on the topic of air pollution in India?
Providing information is a critical aspect. Why would anyone be interested in any topic unless it directly or indirectly benefits or harms him/her? It is normal human tendency. Therefore, the first step to my mind is to tell everybody that pollution is affecting you and killing you, your family, your parents and your children. People aren’t aware of the huge health impact of air pollution. So, the first challenge is to make people aware of the damage that is happening and once they are aware, they will automatically be a part of the solution.
Again I repeat that between a scientist and environmentalist telling people about the ill effects of air pollution vs a doctor talking to them about the ill-effects, a doctor’s voice is likely to be stronger and more acceptable and will work better in motivating people.