Returning to the city I have lived for more than a decade this January, Cairo, I was definitely not expecting to end up at the doctor’s office with days of near constant asthma problems. After 10 years, one would think we’d be accustomed to the air and its nasty pollutants. But that was not to be. For days after arriving, tops of buildings could not be seen as smog covered Egypt‘s capital city in amounts rare to even this polluted metropolis.
The doctor I went to and nursed me back to good health, was clear about what was causing my near constant asthma attacks: air pollution. Unable to leave my flat during the day, I suffered and waited for my lungs to open and become used to the pollutants in the air. Finally, after nearly a week of treatment, I was in the clear and back able to walk the streets of Cairo. But it left me wondering the affects of pollution and asthma on Egyptians in the city.
What I found was staggering.
A 2009 Ain Shams University study on asthma in young children in Egypt found that among Egyptian childen between the ages of three and 15-years-old, an estimated 8.2 percent were infected. In a follow-up study by the Italian Journal of Pediatrics, published in April 2010, the number had risen to 9.4 percent of children that had been physician-diagnosed.
The report also suggested that thousands, if not millions more children, suffer from asthma-related illnesses that go untreated due to the inability to access affordable health care.
According to the United Nations, by 2025, an additional 100 million people are likely to be diagnosed with the disease.
Earlier this month, Green Prophet reported on the affects of air pollution on the population and how Cairo compared to other massive cities across the globe. In a report by the environment ministry in March 2009, Cairo is over 100 times more polluted than New York City. Today, it is estimated by the ministry of health that over 25,000 people die annually in Cairo from diseases related to air pollution.
While the government is looking to clean up the air in the city, it remains a danger, not just to me, but to the 85 million strong population that call Egypt home.
Thinking back to the past two years, covering conflict and violence on the streets, being exposed to tear gas in large amounts, I wonder why that did not cause massive asthma trouble, but it didn’t. Instead it was returning to my home after only two weeks that left me struggling for my breath. Think about all those children next time walking the streets of Cairo and the lungs tighten up.