Environmental Threats to Children's Health in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific

By Suk, William A.; Ruchirawat, Kuhnying Mathuros et al. | Environmental Health Perspectives, August 2003 | Go to article overview

Environmental Threats to Children's Health in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific


Suk, William A., Ruchirawat, Kuhnying Mathuros, Balakrishnan, Kalpana, Berger, Martha, Carpenter, David, Damstra, Terri, de Garbino, Jenny Pronczuk, Koh, David, Landrigan, Philip J., Makalinao, Irma, Sly, Peter D., Xu, Y., Zheng, B. S., Environmental Health Perspectives


The Southeast Asia and Western Pacific regions contain half of the world's children and are among the most rapidly industrializing regions of the globe. Environmental threats to children's health are widespread and are multiplying as nations in the area undergo industrial development and pass through the epidemiologic transition. These environmental hazards range from traditional threats such as bacterial contamination of drinking water and wood smoke in poorly ventilated dwellings to more recently introduced chemical threats such as asbestos construction materials; arsenic in groundwater; methyl isocyanate in Bhopal, India; untreated manufacturing wastes released to landfills; chlorinated hydrocarbon and organophosphorous pesticides; and atmospheric lead emissions from the combustion of leaded gasoline. To address these problems, pediatricians, environmental health scientists, and public health workers throughout Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific have begun to build local and national research and prevention programs in children's environmental health. Successes have been achieved as a result of these efforts: A cost-effective system for producing safe drinking water at the village level has been devised in India; many nations have launched aggressive antismoking campaigns; and Thailand, the Philippines, India, and Pakistan have all begun to reduce their use of lead in gasoline, with resultant declines in children's blood lead levels. The International Conference on Environmental Threats to the Health of Children, held in Bangkok, Thailand, in March 2002, brought together more than 300 representatives from 35 countries and organizations to increase awareness on environmental health hazards affecting children in these regions and throughout the world. The conference, a direct result of the Environmental Threats to the Health of Children meeting held in Manila in April 2000, provided participants with the latest scientific data on children's vulnerability to environmental hazards and models for future policy and public health discussions on ways to improve children's health. The Bangkok Statement, a pledge resulting from the conference proceedings, is an important first step in creating a global alliance committed to developing active and innovative national and international networks to promote and protect children's environmental health. Key words: Bangkok, children's environmental health, exposure, lead, mercury, risk, Southeast Asia, Western Pacific.

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"We recognize that a growing number of diseases in children have been linked to environmental exposures ... that environmental exposures are increasing in many countries ... that new emerging risks are being identified, and that more and more children are being exposed to unsafe environments." This quotation from the Bangkok Statement (the Bangkok Statement; WHO 2002b) represents the consensus of participants at the International Conference on Environmental Threats to the Health of Children: Hazards and Vulnerability, held in Bangkok, Thailand, 3-7 March 2002. The goals of this conference were to identify specific environmental threats to the health of children in the Southeast Asian and Western Pacific regions, to raise the awareness on the special vulnerability of children, and to discuss examples of effective solutions and prevention/ intervention strategies. The Bangkok Statement can be considered a model for national and international calls to action for all sectors to work jointly to protect children's health against environmental threats.

Environmental threats to the health of children in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific are myriad, and include the classic infectious disease hazards: pneumonia, dysentery, measles, AIDS, and tuberculosis (Wegman 1999). Moreover, as industrial development proceeds and nations pass through the epidemiologic transition (Orman 1971), children are confronted by a rapidly multiplying array of new threats to health posed by exposures to toxic chemicals.

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