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Clean air would promote better health in Serbia

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Belgrade, 3 June 2015 – Medical and health experts say air pollution from coal plants is causing unnecessary and expensive lung and heart problems in Serbia and in Europe.(1)

A Statement on reducing chronic disease by reducing dependency on fossil fuels, signed by public health professionals in Serbia, was launched at a press conference at the Ministry of Health today. (2)

Deputy Health Minister of Serbia, prof dr Berislav Vekić says that an effective programme of health prevention in Serbia must include a focus on the promotion of cleaner air. “Reducing the level of pollutants in the air would produce very significant reductions in deaths, suffering from respiratory and heart problems and health care costs in Serbia,” he says. “Health protection must therefore be considered in energy choices. Long-term effects on population health in Serbia should be taken into account when developing energy policies.

One of the signatories to the Statement, and working with the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) in Serbia, is prof. dr. Marija Jevtić, Medical faculty University of Novi Sad, Institute of Public Health of Vojvodina. She says: “Doctors are very concerned about air pollution and are calling on the government to take health into account when taking decisions on energy policy.” The Statement follows from a meeting organized by HEAL in Serbia in October 2014. (1)

Dr Jevtic will take the message about air pollution and health to a conference on 5 June in Belgrade on environment in Serbia’s future accession to the European Union. (3)

Just last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) agreed a first-ever resolution on air quality, which is a major milestone for improving the health of people suffering from diseases related to poor air quality. (4) The resolution paves the way for health ministries in all countries, including Serbia, to redouble their efforts to reduce the health impacts of air pollution.

HEAL and many health professionals have repeatedly pointed out that opting out of coal and fossil fuels would quickly and dramatically cut the health burden (5, 6). It would also reduce carbon missions (7) and save future costs in the EU accession process.

To date, countries of the Western Balkans seeking to join the EU have made almost no progress on the process of aligning their environmental and climate policies with the EU’s framework. Serbia’s subsidies to coal investment are taking the country in the opposite direction and risk making the country a host to unhealthy energy projects. (8)

HEAL is supporting the calls of medical experts for cleaner energy policies in countries throughout Europe. “Serbia’s health professionals are joining colleagues in EU countries calling for cleaner energy for better health (9),” says Anne Stauffer, HEAL’s Deputy Director based in Brussels, Belgium. “Plans in Serbia to increase investment in coal-fired plants would lead to increasing health costs whereas opting for renewable energy and energy savings would reduce asthma and chronic lung and heart conditions. Serbia’s health ministry has an opportunity to achieve important progress in public health by leading a dialogue on the harm caused to health by fossil fuels. Cleaner energy brings health benefits and less coal burning also helps to achieve climate targets. Recognition of this win-win option would put Serbia ahead of other Balkan countries in the EU accession process.

Contacts:

Marija Jevtić, full professor, Medical Faculty University of Novi Sad, Public Health Institute of Vojvodina, Tel: +381 64 3 222 506, E-mail: marija.jevtic@uns.ac.rs
A former assistant health minister (June 2011- October 2012), Marija Jevtić is a doctor and public health specialist with over 20 years experience in air pollution in Serbia.

Anne Stauffer, Deputy Director, HEAL, Mobile: +49 173 10 70 712, +32 473 711092, Email: anne@env-health.org SPEAKS ENGLISH, GERMAN AND FRENCH

Vlatka Matković Puljić, Project Coordinator, Energy and Health, South & Central East European countries, vlatka@env-health.org, Tel: +32 2 234 36 42 SPEAKS SERBO-CROATE AND ENGLISH

Notes for Journalists

1. Statement on reducing chronic disease by reducing dependency on fossil fuels signed by medical professors and other experts, public health institutes and health organizations is available here in English and here in Serbian.

The statement was developed at a meeting organised by Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) in Serbia on 31 October 2014. It says that in 2010, around 10,000 people in Serbia died prematurely due to exposure to particulate matter and ozone. This is the second highest rate of premature deaths due air pollution in Europe. Coal combustion in thermal power plants in Serbia leads to health costs estimated at up to €4.98 billion a year. Ambient air pollution due to coal combustion has a negative effect on the cardiovascular and respiratory system, can severely harm the brain and the developing nervous system in children, can hamper fetal development and lead to cancer. Evidence is available of the damaging effects of coal on health at every stage of its use - from excavation in mines to the final disposal of ashes and by-products.

To improve air quality and reduce incidence of respiratory, cardiovascular and other diseases related to air pollution, and to reduce long-term economic costs for the health system, the medical experts and health organizations in Serbia are calling for the inclusion of the health sector in energy policy development and regulation.

2. Press conference at Ministry of Health, Novi Beograd, 11 am on 3 June 2015.

3. Professor Marija Jevtic will be speaking at the regional conference to be held in Belgrade on 5 June (World environment day). See Challenges on the Road to the EU with a special focus on horizontal EU legislation as instrument for achieving the objectives of EU environmental, http://ambassadors-env.com/ene15-env-net-konferencija/

4. WHO Resolution, May 2015, “Health and the environment: addressing the health impact of air pollution
HEAL report, World Health Assembly tackles air pollution for better health

5. Changes in energy policy can have almost immediate effects on health. For example, within five years of the ban on coal burning in Dublin, Ireland in 1990, deaths from respiratory disease had fallen by 15% and deaths from cardiovascular disease by 10%. See Effect of air-pollution control on death rates in Dublin, Ireland: an intervention study, The Lancet, October 2002, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0140673602112815

6. HEAL’s report estimates the health benefits from phasing out coal-fired power stations in the EU at up to €42.8 billion a year. The Unpaid Health Bill, How coal power plants make us sick http://www.env-health.org/resources/press-releases/article/coal-s-health-bill-reaches-eur43

7. As levels of air pollutants fall, emissions of carbon and greenhouse gases also fall with important benefits for mitigating climate change. The longer term benefits for health therefore include a reduction in the health impacts of global warming and other adverse weather events. Policy change to improve air quality therefore boosts health and helps prevent climate change.

8. Coal overshadows EU membership prospects of the Western Balkans, Euractiv, 24 April 2015 http://www.euractiv.com/sections/energy/coal-overshadows-eu-membership-prospects-western-balkans-314028

9. Health professionals in the UK, Germany, Poland, Turkey and European medical associations are involved in initiatives for cleaner air to boost public health. See HEAL coal report page

Last updated on 4 June 2015

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