Troubles in the air

June 21, 2015

International standards are not generally followed when starting construction works, especially close to a healthcare facility. The poor patients are condemned to breathe in the polluted air

Troubles in the air

The road leading to Mayo Hospital from Macleod Road that brings in patients from different parts of the city, has been variously dug by WASA for different construction projects and installation of water supply line is presently underway. Predictably, this has added to the woes of the poor patients who are condemned to breathe in the polluted air.

As the air around one of Lahore’s largest healthcare facilities is laden with dust particles and other toxic pollutants, the Pediatric Surgery Ward of Mayo receives the maximum impact, having close proximity to the part of the road under construction. It is criminal how the ailing children have to pay the price for it.

It seems no standard operating procedures (SOPs) or guidelines are followed before launching mega road construction projects, especially those that fall close to healthcare facilities. Otherwise, those suffering from one ailment or the other are twice as likely to catch infections.

Health standards on exposure to gases, vapours, fumes, dust, noise and radiation that limit the amount or concentration of a material -- chemical, noise or dust -- which may be present at one’s workplace or home, must be observed.

According to Farooq Hameed Sheikh, Director General, Environment, Punjab, the SOPs for dust, traffic emissions etc., are very much laid down. "There are judicial procedures as well," he says. "The violators are tried in courts."

"We strictly monitor [the construction projects] and the culprits are challaned."

Sheikh is of the view that there is always room for improvement.

Tahir Raza, President, American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE)’s Central Pakistan chapter, says "In the UK, the US, UAE and Europe, it is mandatory to follow the standards before you start any construction work near or within the premises of a healthcare facility.

"In any case, a clinic or a hospital should always take measures to provide pollution-free environment to their patients," he adds. "As far as Lahore is concerned, Shaukat Khanum is the only hospital with patient-friendly, controlled environment."

The case with the public hospitals is worse. Though, as Raza says, "the process is very simple -- a certain volume of air is sometimes re-circulated and, at places, the outdoor air is inducted in the environment. This air is filtered to purge it of any germs. For the purpose, ultraviolet rays are used."

The circulation process is not allowed in OPDs. The reason, says Raza, is that "here, the ailments have not been identified yet. The bacteria is 10 times smaller in size than the dust particles, so they can be controlled easily by adopting the measures."

General Hospital is the only healthcare facility in the public sector that observes such standards in wards other than the Operation Theatre.

Dr Amjad Shahzad, Medical Superintendent, Mayo Hospital, rejects the notion, saying "the construction work doesn’t have much impact on the patients’ health as our wards are air-conditioned.

"Only OTs have controlled environment but the new block is being prepared in accordance with the health standards being practised globally," he says.

In the end, Dr Shahzad urges on the Environment Department of the government to enforce rules more effectively for the betterment of the public health.

Troubles in the air