Wednesday, 22 Jan 2020

Do we treat the Symptom or the Cause?

Recently, I came across a news article on an innovative face mask developed by students at the Manav Rachna international institute of Research at Faridabad, India. In keeping with this year's theme for World Environment Day, #BeatAirPollution, this mask doubles up as a nebulizer to protect the user against air pollution. The product is designed to release a certain amount of medicine for nebulization depending on the air quality and the prescription of the user. You can refer to the article here.

I applaud the designers for using technology in creating a product directed towards people with respiratory problems living in areas where there is high air pollution. I am sure it would be very useful to people suffering from the impacts of air pollution.

However, looking at the other side of the coin, I see a problem with this scenario in several different levels.  These have been translated into questions that I believe one must ask and one must get answered to truly get to the bottom of the problem.


Have we already reached the stage of adaptation to air pollution, as opposed to air pollution mitigation?

I pray, and believe, that we have not. Because, if, as researchers, as community, as government, we have come to the point that nothing can be done to mitigate and the only way out is to adapt, that would be very depressing indeed. As useful as these products are in the short term, researchers and policy-makers should focus on long-term solutions – be it technological or behavioral.

Will such products act as an encouragement to continue (or worsen) our polluting lifestyle?

In this day and age where the solution to every ailment lies in a pill, will this product be viewed as a panacea for all air pollution woes? Would this not, in turn, encourage people to continue to live in ignorance of the impact their lifestyles have in causing air pollution? If there is a readymade solution to keep ourselves healthy, will we be less inclined to use public transport, buy fuel-efficient cars and take other measures to reduce our footprint on air?

Is it a lack of awareness, or is it an unwillingness to change habits that we prefer to look for solutions for the symptoms rather than tackling the root cause of the problem?

Every individual has the capability and responsibility to reduce their burden on the environment. When it comes to air pollution, there are several things that we, as individuals, can do to reduce our contribution to air pollution, such as emission testing of our vehicles, using public transport and refrain from open burning. Can we focus on technologies that help people change their habits?


I remember my doctor telling me, “Fever is a symptom. We need to find and resolve the cause”. So the question is – do we treat the symptom alone and forget addressing the cause?


Questions we probably should ask if we are committed to get down to the root cause of the problem.

Questions that came to my mind.

Questions that I want to pose to you.

Please feel free to join the discussion and share your views on this subject.

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2 thoughts on “Do we treat the Symptom or the Cause?

  1. Well Said! This trend of sticking to short term responses to chronic environmental and health problems have become a norm. After becoming good at this type of “jugaad” approach in so many non environment matters…..about which we Indian take great pride in…..what we forget is that a jugaad approach is dangerous when it comes to matters of our environment and our health.

    We have taken this approach to cleaning of rivers
    and lakes without sparing a thought for the source of the pollution which ends up there….

    So we have never demonstrated our capability in taking a long term view in striking problems at their root..

    I guess it would be good to understand and strike the root cause of such collective mindset that we have become afflicted with.

    Thought provoking article!!

    1. Thank you Bhakti. That is exactly right. As long as the short-term solutions are being rewards and touted as the way to go, the society at large will become myopic to long term and long lasting solutions.

      Thank you for your comments and bringing in different perspectives from the world of water as well.

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