An African consensus for addressing environment impact on health

Brazzaville, Congo/Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, 25 August 2017 - Did you know that in the African Region, 23% of premature deaths are attributable to unhealthy environments, at the same time as the Region is facing a double burden of communicable and noncommunicable diseases. 20% of cancers, 31% of cardiovascular diseases, 31% of chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, and 44% of asthma cases are associated with air pollution, tobacco smoke and chemicals. In fact, as said by Dr. Mashidisio Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, “It is not too late to take firm actions to address the substantial disease burden and economic impact of environmental determinants on health and the consequent socioeconomic impact in the African Region. We have a unique opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to protect present and future generations."

Environment and Health: two dependent sectors 

Currently environmental change and challenges including extreme weather events are occurring at an unprecedented pace. The African Region with highly vulnerable populations is experiencing high burden of both communicable and noncommunicable diseases. It is evident that environmental risks are the source of 23% of the burden of diseases.  These include vector-borne, diarrheal and cardiovascular diseases, as well as lower respiratory infections that are significantly attributable to environmental determinants. In 2012, 4.3 million deaths globally were attributable to indoor pollution, with 580 000 of those deaths occurring in Africa, principally as a result of domestic use of solid fuel for heating, lighting and cooking. 

In recognition of the threat posed by adverse environmental effects on health, African Health and Environment Ministers adopted what is known as ‘Libreville Declaration on Health and Environment in Africa’ in 2008. They made a commitment then, among others, to create frameworks, policies and procedures to face in a more effective way the issue of the environment impact on health, by including all the members of the community and ensuring the compliance of their actions with the international conventions. 

The strategy: joint and integrated actions to face the issue

A lot has taken happened nine years after the implementation of the ‘Libreville Declaration on Health and Environment in Africa’. Today international environmental health priorities have evolved considerably with the adoption of the SDGs, the Paris Agreement on climate change (2015) and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030. Global Health Security along with antimicrobial resistance has also emerged as a top priority on the global public health agenda. 

Addressing adverse impact of the environment on health requires an up-to-date and integrated strategy, rooted in the Libreville Declaration and aligned with the sustainable development goals (SDGs). In the light of this, the World Health Organization (WHO) is introducing a ‘Regional strategy for the Management of Environmental Determinants of Human Health in the African Region 2017-2021’. The strategy will be reviewed by ministers of health, during the 67th session of the Regional Committee for Africa, at Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe from August 28th till September 1st, 2017.   

Its aim is to guide countries to reduce the burden of disease caused by environmental factors through safe, sustainable and health-enhancing human environments. It will also serve as a framework for accelerating the implementation of the Libreville Declaration. The principal areas of focus of the strategy include improving drinking-water and sanitation and hygiene, air pollution and clean energy, chemicals and waste, climate change, vector control and health in the workplace. Its implementation will require reviewing and reinforcing existing institutional arrangements, establishing a sustainable financing mechanism, strengthening national capacities for research, advocacy and communication, and integrated surveillance, monitoring and evaluation. Its implementation by member states is expected to significantly contribute to the attainment of the SDGs.
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For more information, please contact:
Dr Magaran Bagayoko. Team Leader, Public health & Environment, Telephone: +47-241-39903
Email: Bagayokom [at] who.int
C. Boakye-Agyemang, Communications Adviser (Congo), Telephone: +47-241-39420 Mobile: +242 065 20 6565. Email: boakyeagyemangc [at] who.int
Bellya, Ameyo Sekpon, Communications Officer (Congo), Telephone: +47-241-39xxx Mobile: +242 065311423,  Email: sekpona [at] who.int
 

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