By Raja Singh
The course on Global Public Health by the SDG Academy was an eye opener, not only for me from the researcher point of view, but as a citizen of the world.
As an architect and a researcher in the area of airborne infection spread in the built environment, my work primarily deals with the prevention of airborne infection through dilution ventilation in buildings. At my college, the School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi, there is a focus on taking research to policy and eventual action, but the catalyst effect was provided by the Global Public Health course by the SDG Academy available on edX. The course provided an extensive discussion of the infectious diseases of the past. The work done by people in the past to deal with past epidemics, as shown in the course, brought to light the occurrence of the need for action in the present times when we deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
When my group started our research, there was no sign of the COVID-19 pandemic.We were working on Tuberculosis and the spread of airborne infection and the relation of ventilation to it. But as the COVID-19 pandemic started, there was death and despair all around us. Apart from that, the infection control which was needed at healthcare buildings, now became a reality for all public buildings. All public buildings were under the risk of airborne spread of the COVID-19 aerosolized virus.
While researching, we came across the Delhi High Court which had switched off the centralized air conditioner due to the higher chance of spread of COVID-19. On approaching the arguing counsel, we found the possibility of taking this work forward to all the public buildings and filed a Public Interest Litigation in the Hon’ble Delhi High Court at New Delhi. Public Interest Litigation is a unique Indian phenomenon where any citizen can bring to light any matter of urgent public interest and seek a writ from the court directing the authorities to take action, etc.
The court lauded the petition by the author and gave a judgment instructing multiple authorities to take action.
One of the many respondents was the Delhi Pollution Control Committee which denied any action under the pretext that the Committee’s mandate was restricted to the India Air law called the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 or the Air Act. It further stated that Indoor Air, which had to be regulated, as per our request, was not under the Air Act and only ambient air quality was covered. To clear this confusion and to seek the correct interpretation of the law, we moved the Hon’ble National Green Tribunal at New Delhi which ruled that the Indoor Air can also be regulated under the Air Act and instructed three Central Government ministries to make suitable guidelines and standards. The issue of monitoring of Carbon Dioxide as a surrogate measure for ventilation and therefore the infection spread probability was also highlighted in an application before the National Green Tribunal which was referred to the same committee of three Central Ministries under the Central Pollution Control Board.
What is apparent is how someone has to get up and take action for issues that are crucial for Public Health importance. The course played a key role in acting as a catalyst for some thoughts that became actions. Airborne Infection Control and Ventilation is now recognized in India as not a mere engineering problem but as a public health issue. I hope many other people across the world take up public health not only as a career, but also as a civic responsibility.
Ar. Raja Singh is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Architecture at the School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi where he is also a Visiting Faculty. He works in the area of Indoor Air Quality, Airborne Infection Control and other Performance parameters of buildings. He is also a Built Environment & Public Health Research Fellow at Tathatara Foundation and the Advisor at ISAC Centre for Built Environment Policy, India. He has worked through various judicial forums on issues of the Built Environment which deal with Health, Safety and Public Health. A registered architect, he has studied previously at National Institute of Technology, Tiruchirappalli and IET Bhaddal, Punjab.