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World Health Assembly weighs in on air quality, chemicals and sustainable development goals

HEAL welcomes the World Health Organization’s roadmap for tackling air pollution to be discussed at this week’s World Health Assembly, WHO’s highest health policy setting body.

In a 2015 publication, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that around 12.6 million people worldwide, or one in four, die every year as a result of living or working in an unhealthy environment. This year’s 69th World Health Assembly plans to shed a light on environmental health by consider a draft roadmap for tackling the world’s largest single environmental health risk: air pollution.

Indoor and outdoor air pollution bring high costs to societies, but they are both among the leading avoidable causes of disease and death globally. Each year 4.3 million premature deaths occur from exposure to indoor air pollution and 3.7 million premature deaths each year are attributable to outdoor air pollution.

The so-called “road map for an enhanced response to the adverse health effects of air pollution” has been requested by Member States from the WHO Director-General at the 68th WHA last year, calling for a significant strengthening of WHO’s capacities in the field of air pollution and health. The roadmap builds on the first ever WHO resolution on air quality and health which was adopted last year.

HEAL is pleased to hear that the WHO is acknowledging air pollution as an avoidable cause of disease and death and links this more prominently with the Non Communicable Disease strategy and agenda.

The draft roadmap recognises that the root causes of air pollution as well as its adverse impacts have been underscored in the past and that synergies can be created in the future work programmes by linking the roadmap with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for health (Goal 3), cities (Goal 11) and energy (Goal 7).

HEAL further agrees that links between wider public health prevention strategies and an effective response to air pollution can and need to be made. Approaching air pollution needs to be linked to country´s approaches relating to the prevention of non-communicable diseases (NCD) such as pneumonia.

HEAL also considers the road map as an invaluable tool to enable health professionals as well as health protection authorities at national level to take on a leading role in raising awareness of air pollution and its impact on public health. In addition to the large body of evidence on how air pollution harms health, the road map is another incentive for the health sector to become more actively involved in national policy planning and development.

Unfortunately, the draft report does not assign particular importance to the contribution of specific energy sources such as fossil fuels on air pollution or the positive impact that clean energy access to i.e. renewables has on improving health outcomes. Nevertheless, it does represents a great opportunity for national health ministries to become valued contributors to challenging the world’s most pressing environmental health threat, air pollution, and simultaneously contribute to tackling climate change and the SDGs in a concrete way that brings immediate local benefits.

More information on the World Health Assembly 2016 available here

Originally posted on 26 May 2016

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The Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) is a leading European not-for-profit organisation addressing how the environment affects health in the European Union (EU). We demonstrate how policy changes can help protect health and enhance people’s quality of life. Read more »

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HEAL has over 70 member organisations, representing health professionals, not-for-profit health insurers, doctors, nurses, cancer and asthma groups, citizens, women’s groups, youth groups, environmental NGOs, scientists and public health institutes. Members include international and Europe-wide organisations, as well as national and local groups. Read more »

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