Dr Kamalesh Sarkar, Director, ICMR-NIOH Ahmeabad

Director's Desk

National Institute of Occupational Health is a premier public health institute, which was established in 1966 as Occupational Health Research Institute (OHRI), taking 2 rooms at BJ Medical College, Ahmedabad. The OHRI was later renamed as "National Institute of Occupational Health" (NIOH) in 1970 and was moved to its present premises. Since then till now, NIOH has been working continuously through its main as well as two of its regional centres – Bangalore & Kolkata. Our primary responsibility is to support the national policy makers for adopting an appropriate policy in the field of occupational health, based on felt needs of our country. This is done through multi-disciplinary research, capacity building and technological development. Considering quantum of burden of occupational diseases, >90% of our workers work in the unorganized sectors. Priority-wise we have a focus on working towards dust related respiratory morbidities (such as silicosis, anthracosis, byssinosis etc.). Similarly, other diseases of concern are heavy metal poisoning, musculosketal disorders, pesticide poisoning etc. in various occupational groups.

We have already started working on prevention & control of silicosis and other dust related lung diseases. There are an estimated 3-million workers, who are working in various industries (ceramic, foundries, agate, stone polishing, stone quarries etc.) and they are getting exposed to silica dust daily while working. Recently, we have identified a serum protein known as CC-16 which is secreted from the non-ciliated epithelial cells of the lungs known as club cells. CC-16 could be used as a potential bio-marker for early detection of any dust related disease where extensive lung damage occurs due to its continuous inhalational exposure.

Silicosis is an irreversible disease for which there is no specific treatment & no cure. But it is 100% preventable disease, provided it is detected at an early stage. CC-16 bio-marker appears to be a promising one as evidenced from our recent pilot study. Now, we are preparing for a bigger study to validate our initial finding. Our next approach would be to develop a point of care diagnostic device for detection of CC-16 level among dust exposed workers. We are trying to develop an indigenous kit for detection of CC16 in serum. Our next attempt would be initiating advocacy for changing legislation towards ensuring regular screening of dust exposed workers, so that early detection is made possible for silicosis or anthracosis. Extensive awareness campaign to educate workers/management staff is equally important using suitable technology such as mobile phone. We also wish to remind that silicosis cases are more at risk of developing tuberculosis including multi-drug resistant tuberculosis. So, unless silicosis is controlled, control of TB will not be possible from our country.

We are also in the process of developing a transdermal patch that would detect sweat lead level among workers vulnerable to lead toxicity. Once in use, workers can detect their sweat lead status by themselves. Similarly, we need many more technological developments through collaboration & cooperation with industries, academia & other bio-medical research organizations.

Lastly, we sincerely welcome for any kind of useful suggestion or constructive criticism that would help us growing further focusing betterment of under-privileged workers’ health & safety of our country.