Country-by-Country Data Show in Detail the Impact of Environmental Factors on Health

Article excerpt

In June, the World Health Organization (WHO) released the first ever country-by-country analysis of the impact that environmental factors have on health. The data show huge inequalities but also demonstrate that in every country, people's health could be improved by reductions in environmental risks including pollution, hazards in the work environment, UV radiation, noise, agricultural risks, and climate and ecosystem change.

The new data show that 13 million deaths worldwide could be prevented every year if environments were made healthier. In some countries, more than one-third of the disease burden could be prevented through environmental improvements. The countries most affected include Angola, Burkina Faso, and Mali, as well as Afghanistan.

In 23 countries worldwide, more than 10 percent of deaths are due to just two environmental risk factors: unsafe water, including poor sanitation and hygiene, and indoor air pollution caused by the use of solid fuel for cooking. Around the world, children under five are the main victims and make up 74 percent of deaths from diarrheal disease and lower respiratory infections.

Low-income countries suffer the most from environmental health factors, losing about 20 times more healthy years of life per person per year than high-income countries. The data show, however, that no country is immune from environmental impacts on health. Even in countries with better environmental conditions, almost one-sixth of the disease burden could be prevented, and efficient environmental interventions could significantly reduce cardiovascular disease and road traffic injuries.

"These country estimates are a first step towards assisting national decision makers in the health and environment sectors to set priorities for preventive action," said Susanne Weber-Mosdorf, WHO assistant director-general for sustainable development and healthy environments. …