Mining operations put Chattisgarh tribals at high risk of respiratory infection: study

The Environment Ministry had commissioned the ICMR study in Raigarh district

Mining operations have put tribals in Chattisgarh’s Raigarh district at an increased risk of acute respiratory infection (ARI), said a study commissioned by the Union Environment Ministry and conducted by the National Institute of Research in Tribal Health (NIRTH), an Indian Council of Medical Research body.

“Nearby mining activities put the tribal population of Raigarh at increased risk of ARI, tuberculosis, road traffic accidents, etc. Apart from environmental health hazards, undernutrition increases the risk further for various diseases,” the report said.

The National Scheduled Tribes Commission had directed the Ministry to assess the health, ascertain key risk factors as well as the quality of nutrition among the residents of Tamnar Block, Raigarh, Chhattisgarh. Because the tribes in the block hadn’t been studied before, the studies would be useful to design specific health intervention and public policy, according to a background note.

Acute respiratory infection (ARI) was detected in nearly a fifth of the population, much higher than the National Health and Family Survey findings for Chhattisgarh as a whole where it was only 2.2% in the last two weeks preceding the survey. “The reason could be due to environmental pollution or poor air quality index. However, in-depth studies need to be done to rule out possible other causes of infections as any infection of the lung in early childhood may cause the development of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and bronchiectasis in later years of life,” the authors said in the report. The study was led by Suyesh Shrivastava and Tapas Chakma of the Division of Non-Communicable Diseases, ICMR.

Other medical conditions

About 1,733 adults and children from 33 villages of Tamnar Block were clinically examined for general morbidity and nutritional deficiency disorders. Their pulse, blood pressure, blood sugar, weight and height were measured. The children were examined for the prevalence of childhood morbidities.

About 42% of pre-school children were underweight and 8.8% men and 6.6% women had “grade III chronic energy deficiency”. After ARI, the most common medical conditions were fever (6.2%) and scabies (1.6%) among the pre-school children. A fifth of the adult population was hypertensive and anaemia was found in 16.1%. Fungal infections were found in 4% of those surveyed.

“These findings vindicate our claims of serious health conditions among the residents due to pollution from mines in the region. We also urge the government to ensure that no further expansion or new mines are started in the region until the adverse health impacts reversed,” Rinchin, writer and an activist based in Raigarh, said in a statement.

Prabir Chatterjee, former executive director of State Health Resource Centre, Chhattisgarh, said, “The study is well planned and systematically executed. A clear recommendation on monitoring air pollution is very important and should be immediately implemented as there is planned expansion of mining and industry in this block. There is also an urgent need to improve the social determinants of health in the region as the health of any community cannot improve otherwise.”

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