A 25-year-long study on 27,000 children below 18 years was carried out by Dr H Parmesh, a panelist, adviser and facilitator in WHO, UNICEF, World Bank and Government of India. The study was begun in 1979, and was updated every five years till 2004.
In the study, a fast changing demography, which has brought about its share of industrial growth, increasing population and vehicular pollution are listed as being responsible for this trend. Around 1,500 vehicles are registered everyday in Bangalore, the report finds.
"While in 1979 only 9% of the children had asthma, with genetic reasons accounting for a chunk of it, by 2004 the number had rose to 26.70%, wherein environmental changes are the prime reasons," says Dr Parmesh.
Asthma can be termed a chronic illness of the respiratory system. It is caused by allergens present in the environment. These allergens can result in sneezing, wheezing, shortness of breath and chest tightness.
Dust mites in the damp atmosphere of Bangalore set off around 60% of asthma. Vehicular emissions such as carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, benzene, nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons, aldehydes, and sulphur dioxide are other potent allergens.
This could be the reason why children from schools in high-traffic zones have higher rates of asthma than those from low-traffic areas. There are 3,722 schools in the city situated amidst heavy traffic. In low-traffic regions, there are 2,565 of them. While 19.34% children from heavy traffic schools are asthmatic, the percentage for low traffic schools is 11.15%.
Chronic asthma in children has shot up from 20% in 1994 to 25.50% in 1999 and 36.60% by 2004, explains Dr Parmesh.
Some schools are doing something about this. At Baldwin Boys High School, Hosur Road, Dinakar Wilson, principal of the school says: "Asthma is the most common reason for students' absence from our school." Here, annual health check-up camps are organized. Students are encouraged to practice car-pooling. This is essential as out of the 2,900 students in the school, only 600 use school buses. The rest come by private vehicles.
At Bishop Cotton Girls School, St Mark's Road, Princess Franklyn the principal vouches: "We have lots of trees planted within our campus which help to keep the air clean. Besides this, annual health check-up camps are held as well."