Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is one of India’s biggest killers and Telangana feels its strain acutely. In 2016, there were 19,000 deaths from COPD in Telangana out of 8.4 lakh deaths nationwide. Since then, the death toll has increased. In 2018, COPD claimed almost one million lives and accounted for thirteen percent of all deaths in the country, ranking as its third biggest killer.
In the state capital Hyderabad, cases of COPD are increasing in number according to consultant pulmonologists at KIMS-Hospital in Hyderabad, Dr V. V. Ramana Prasad. “There is a definite increase in the number of COPD cases in the city and across the state,” Prasad said. “People who live in industrial areas, polluted environments or in poorly ventilated homes are more prone to the disease.”
COPD has increased in prevalence in India in recent decades, from 28.1 million in 1990 to 55.3 million in 2016. The same is true of cases of COPD in Telangana. United Andhra Pradesh, which comprises Telangana and its neighbouring state Andhra Pradesh, increased from 3,429 cases for every one lakh people to 4,479 cases for every one lakh people in 2016.
Despite the disease being widespread, it is India’s “most neglected” according to Dr Sundeep Salvi, director of the Chest Research Foundation of Pune. “There is a definite need to establish a national control and prevention programme aimed at early diagnosis,” he said. Dr Salvi has explained what such a plan would comprise, explaining that it “should be entitled towards early diagnosis of COPD and correct use of spirometry [the most common lung function test for COPD diagnosis]…preventing COPD by reducing exposures to risk factors, right treatment by inhalation medicines as they are safe and very effective and finally treating it better by making drugs available, affordable and accessible.”
Despite its widespread prevalence, 99.15 percent of Indians have never even heard of COPD. Ensuring awareness of the risk factors for the disease is vital in preventing it. Historically, COPD has been regarded as a smoker’s disease. As noted by Dr Salvi earlier this year, “at least one-fourth of patients suffering from COPD had never smoked.” Pollution, both indoors and outdoors, is a major risk factor for the development of COPD, driving the uptick in cases among non-smokers. This highlights the need to address pollution, at the national level and at the state level – as the growing burden of COPD in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh reminds us.