//Link between environmental factors and health: WHO

Link between environmental factors and health: WHO

Thiruvananthapuram: The environment is a platform for good health and addressing environmental concerns is thus critical for the health of the people, indicates a report issued by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Friday.

Approximately a quarter of the global disease burden and more than one-third of the disease burden among children below the age of five are owing to environmental factors that can be modified, says the WHO in its latest report `Preventing disease through healthy environs: towards an estimate of the environmental burden of disease.'

Addressing environmental concerns and preventing risk factors in the environment can save as many as four million lives of children every year in the developing countries, the report estimates.

The WHO report is said to be the most comprehensive and systematic study yet undertaken in 14 regions across the world, including India, on how prevention of environmental hazards can contribute towards better health of nations.

Of the 103 major diseases that have found a mention in the World Health Report, 2004, environmental factors are responsible for the disease burden in 85 categories. The top four diseases that are attributed to environmental factors are diarrhoea, lower respiratory infections, `other unintentional' injuries and malaria.

While diarrhoea can be traced directly to unsafe drinking water and poor sanitation and unhygienic practices, respiratory infections are linked to household solid fuel use and second-hand or passive tobacco smoke and general air pollution.

Nearly 42 per cent of malaria incidence is linked to policies and practices regarding land use and water resources management. `Unintentional injuries' include road accidents caused by environmental factors such as inadequate infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists.

The coastal belt in the district, particularly Valiathura, has been an endemic area for vector-borne diseases like malaria and dengue since 1994 primarily because of the non-availability of safe drinking water and poor environmental hygiene, various studies have proved.

Health workers say that despite awareness campaigns carried out in the region, people still resort to open defecation and maintain poor hygiene. So long as long-term measures are not adopted to improve the environmental causes of diseases and people are not given access to improved drinking water sources and good sanitation facilities, it will be difficult to break the cycle of epidemics in this area.The WHO report, which clearly establishes the link between environmental factors and health, should provide valuable lessons for health policy makers and planners.