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Professional interview: Dr Sundeep Salvi

Professional interview: Dr Sundeep Salvi

Dr Sundeep Salvi, Director of the Chest Research Foundation (CRF) in Pune, India, talks about his research area and why the Healthy Lungs for Life theme of ‘Breathe clean air’ is an important focus for lung health professionals and patients across the globe.

Can you tell us about your area of work?

I am involved in driving research in the field of chronic respiratory diseases, with a major focus on obstructive airways diseases, including asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in India. At CRF, we cover all areas of research, from studies looking at the burden and risk factors of diseases, to clinical trials testing new drugs, and molecular research aimed at understanding what causes asthma and COPD.

We are also actively involved in upgrading the knowledge base of lung health professionals in India and mentoring students, helping them develop an interest in research and supervising some of the exciting work they are doing in this field.

How did you become involved in this field?

Seeing my mother suffer with asthma, I always wanted to do something that would help relieve the suffering of many people with this disease. As a medical student, I was always fascinated by research because it generates new knowledge that has the power to treat our patients better. I had the opportunity to pursue a PhD at the University of Southampton, UK under the mentorship of Professor Stephen Holgate, where I learnt the beauty and the science of conducting cutting-edge research. I spent eight years In the UK researching the effects of air pollution on the lungs.

Can you tell us why the theme ‘Breathe clean air’ is important?

Until recently, developing countries like India were battling for safe and clean drinking water to prevent the development of gastrointestinal infections that were causing significant morbidity and mortality. Today the main concern is not safe drinking water, but being able to breathe clean air. Every human being needs to breathe 10,000 litres of air every day to stay and well. The quality of air we breathe determines the quality of our health.

An estimated 8 million people die every year due to the harmful effects of polluted air. Around 4.7 million people die due to the hazards of household air pollution and 3.4 million die due to hazards of ambient air pollution. Developing countries bear the major brunt, where polluted air has already become the leading cause of suffering and death.

Unless there is a major concerted effort aimed at reducing the levels of air pollutants, many people will continue to suffer and die from air pollution linked with lung diseases. The Healthy Lungs for Life ‘Breathe clean air’ campaign started by the European Respiratory Society and European Lung Foundation is a step in the right direction.

What changes do you hope to see in the future regarding indoor and outdoor air quality?

Air quality needs to improve in all countries across the world, particularly in the developing countries where levels are extremely high. People need to be made aware of the harmful effects of air pollutants and the various sources that are responsible for these high levels. Awareness drives will need to be coupled with policy changes that should help regulate the levels of ambient as well as household air pollutants. Planting more trees, which are known to mop up a variety of air pollutants, should be a priority too. Hopefully, these efforts should help reduce the levels of ambient as well as household air pollutants.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

I enjoy doing research that directly or indirectly helps reduce the suffering of individual people with airways disease and helps them to lead a healthier life. I also enjoy mentoring young, bright and enthusiastic colleagues and instilling in them the spirit of inquisitiveness and seeing them grow and achieve recognition in the field of research at national and international platforms.

What are you most proud of in your career?

I am most proud of setting up a research institute in India and seeing it grow over the years to become one of the centres of excellence for research in respiratory medicine in the world. CRF has helped generate knowledge that has benefited the people of my country, as well as those in other countries.

I am also proud of having mentored a number of physicians, scientists, students and technicians who have received recognition for their research in the form of awards and distinctions at international conferences. I would be most proud to see India as one of the leaders in the field of respiratory medicine, generating important and useful knowledge that is benefiting the world at large.

Watch the Healthy Lungs for Life ERS Vision video, featuring Dr Sundeep Salvi.