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Advice for travellers to Pakistan as air quality exceeds ‘hazardous’ levels

Heavy smog blankets the Pakistan Monument, in Lahore, Pakistan, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019.Heavy smog has enveloped many cities of Punjab.

Air quality levels across Lahore and Punjab over the last few weeks has crossed hazardous levels multiple times which is causing severe health issues. SBS Urdu talked to a medical professional to find out what precautions are necessary if you plan to travel to Pakistan.

Air quality across several cities in Pakistan have crossed hazardous levels and are causing severe health issues. 

Amnesty International has issued an ‘Urgent Action’ to the people of Lahore hoping for people around the world to campaign as hazardous smog submerges the second largest city of Pakistan.

This comes in the wake of inadequate response by the government to take necessary steps to avoid on-going poor air quality in the region.

Advice for travellers

According to IAMAT (International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers), it is advised that if you are travelling to Pakistan make sure you comply with air pollution advisories in the locality.

  • Travellers with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) should carry an inhaler, antibiotic, or oral steroid - consult your doctor to see what is best for you.
  • Older travellers with pre-existing conditions should get a physical exam that includes a stress and lung capacity test prior to departure.
  • Newborns and young children should minimise exposure as much as possible or consider not travelling to areas with poor air quality.
  • Ask your medical practitioner if a face mask is advisable for you.

Dr Farhan Shahzad, Occupational Health Specialist while talking to SBS Urdu said that air quality and pollution is a huge problem in Pakistan at the moment.

“It is a good idea to monitor the air quality index on a regular basis to see where to avoid travelling. Kids, elderly and pregnant women are more susceptible and need to take extra precautionary measures” said Dr Shahzad.

Key advice for travellers as mentioned by Dr Shahzad are as follows:

  • Asthma sufferers take extra medication with you
  • Take extra allergy medications
  • Make an asthma action plan with your local GP before travelling
  • It is recommended to get your influenza flu shots
  • If you can avoid travelling in winters 
  • Face masks do not protect you from air pollution, it is a false reassurance
  • Avoid outdoor activities
  • Ensure you have a current travel insurance policy to cover unexpected costs in case you need to visit the doctor or hospital.

While talking about smog and air pollution in Sydney and regional areas affected by bushfires Dr Shahzad said that the quality is not as bad as Pakistan the moment though people living close to the fires should evacuate immediately.

“Asthma is the main problem and a lot of infections are going around due to air pollution in Sydney. I will suggest getting yourself checked up by your local GP if you are in doubt or have any symptoms such as short of air, breathing problems, irritation in the throat, sneezing, itchy and watery eyes.” 

Pakistan smog travel advice
Pakistani children walk to school in heavy smog in Lahore.
ARIF ALI/AFP via Getty Images

Background

For one in every two days in November, the air quality of Lahore and several cities across Punjab have been classified as “hazardous” by air quality monitors installed at the United States Consulate and the Pakistan Air Quality Initiative.

There has not been a single day of healthy air in Lahore this year. Last week schools were closed and kids were ordered to wear masks and avoid any outdoor activities.

“The issue is so serious that we are calling on our members around the world to write to the Pakistani authorities to tell them to stop downplaying the crisis and take urgent action to protect people’s health and lives,” said Rimmel Mohydin, South Asia Campaigner at Amnesty International.

On 25th November Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan launched the Green, Clean Index in 19 cities across Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to tackle the issue of climate change and improve air quality.

Cities involved in the initiative will compete in addressing issues of public interest such as safe drinking water, waste management, pollution, plantation, clean air and community participation.

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