In 22 days of this month alone, 5,064 people were admitted to government hospitals with respiratory diseases. Four of them died.
This is according to data from the Directorate General of Health Services. The alarming numbers paint a picture of a country's air poisoned by asthma, pneumonia, bronchitis and tuberculosis, among various respiratory and other diseases.
The rise in air pollution in the country has led to an increase in respiratory diseases which spare no one, including children. Doctors concur that there is a direct relationship with air quality and respiratory diseases.
And Bangladesh has again been ranked as having the world's most polluted air by IQAir.
Dr Kamruzzamam Kamrul, coordinator of the asthma centre at the Dhaka Shishu Hospital, told The Business Standard that dust has a direct bearing on respiratory diseases.
Chronic, ongoing exposure to dust mites can dramatically impact the health of people with asthma. Bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma and tuberculosis in children are all related to dust, he said, adding there was no alternative to solving this than by reducing air pollution.
Dr Kamrul said the number of patients suffering from respiratory infections, dust allergies and asthma at the centre was on the rise. Numbers had already reached almost 200 before Covid-19, but now the average daily was 250-300.
Who will become the polluted air's next victim is not easy to predict.
Rafiqul Islam, 40, a resident of Mirpur, suddenly started having difficulty breathing on Sunday night. He was diagnosed with asthma the next day. Now he has to take medicine and an inhaler regularly twice a day.
"I already had some symptoms of asthma but I haven't had much difficulty breathing. Now, almost all the roads in Dhaka city are under construction so there's lots of dust. Even after wearing two masks, I am not protected much. So my breathing difficulties have increased," he said.
According to the DGHS data, the number of asthma patients rose by a factor of 24 to 78,806 in 2019 from 3,326 in 2015. Deaths from the disease went up tenfold to 588 from 56 in the same period.
While who will be victims of pollution is hard to predict, identifying the culprit is not.
The reading of small and hazardous airborne particles – known as PM2.5 – in Bangladesh averaged at 76.9 micrograms per cubic metre (μg/m³) last year.
The figures were 97.1, 83.3, and 77.1 μg/m³ back in 2018, 2019 and 2020. According to the Air Quality Index (AQI), at 5.15 PM on Wednesday, Dhaka's score was 167, which is unhealthy.
The PM2.5 are so fine that they easily penetrate a human's respiratory tract, which in turn affects the whole body, doctors say. This is what is creating the short- and long-term health risks.
In the short term, these particles cause various ailments, including headaches and respiratory diseases. In the long run, they invite other diseases, including lung and chronic kidney disease.
While there are no official statistics on the number of people affected by air pollution in the country, doctors said air pollution exposure was linked to increased hospitalisations, disabilities, and early death from respiratory diseases, heart disease, strokes, lung cancer, and diabetes, as well as communicable diseases like pneumonia.
In 2021, the National Institute of Diseases of the Chest and Hospital in Dhaka treated over 2,10,000 patients, both at the outdoor and emergency. Seven years ago, the number was 85,000.
Dr Mirza Mohammad Hiron, president of The Chest and Heart Association of Bangladesh, said that about one-third of patients in Bangladesh suffer from various lung diseases, of which six million are from asthma alone. Lungs and airways are the first to be affected by air pollution. Continued air pollution has led to an increase in various diseases including asthma, allergies, pneumonia, COPD and lung cancer.
He termed environmental pollution the new challenge for the country's health system.
The number of cases of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) rose from 1,610 in 2015 to 78,806 in 2019, an increase by a factor of 49. Deaths from it increased to 588 in the same period.