According to the report which was made available to the Ghana News Agency on Tuesday by Christian Lindmeier, WHO Communications Officer, environmental risk factors, such as air, water and soil pollution, chemical exposures, climate change and ultraviolet radiation, contribute to more than 100 diseases and injuries.
The second edition of the report, “Preventing disease through healthy environments: a global assessment of the burden of disease from environmental risks”, reveals that since the report was first published a decade ago, deaths due to Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs), attributable to air pollution (including exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke), are amounting to as much as 8.2 million of these deaths.
It said NCDs, such as stroke, heart disease, cancers and chronic respiratory disease, now amount to nearly two-thirds of the total deaths caused by unhealthy environments.
It noted that at the same time, deaths from infectious diseases, such as diarrhoea and malaria, often related to poor water, sanitation and waste management, have declined.
It said increases in access to safe water and sanitation have been key contributors to this decline, alongside better access to immunization, insecticide-treated mosquito nets and essential medicines.
“A healthy environment underpins a healthy population,” says Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General.
“If countries do not take actions to make environments where people live and work healthy, millions will continue to become ill and die too young,” she said.
The report emphasizes cost-effective measures that countries can take to reverse the upward trend of environment-related disease and deaths.
These include reducing the use of solid fuels for cooking and increasing access to low-carbon energy technologies.
“There’s an urgent need for investment in strategies to reduce environmental risks in our cities, homes and workplaces, said Dr Maria Neira, WHO Director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health.
“Such investments can significantly reduce the rising worldwide burden of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, injuries and cancers, and lead to immediate savings in healthcare costs,” she said.
The report said environmental risks take their greatest toll on young children and older people, with children under five and adults aged 50 to 75 years most impacted.
It said yearly, 1.7 million children under five and 4.9 million adults aged 50 to 75, deaths could be prevented through better environmental management.
The report said lower respiratory infections and diarrhoeal diseases mostly impact children under five, while older people are most impacted by NCDs.
Regionally, the report finds, low- and middle-income countries in the WHO South-East Asia and Western Pacific Regions had the largest environment-related disease burden in 2012, with a total of 7.3 million deaths, most attributable to indoor and outdoor air pollution.
The regional breakdown of death cases from environmental risk include – 2.2 million deaths annually in the African region, 847,000 deaths annually in region of the Americas, 854,000 deaths annually in Eastern Mediterranean region, 0.4 million deaths annually in European region, 3.8 million deaths annually in South-East Asia region and 3.5 million deaths annually in Western Pacific region.
Low- and middle-income countries bear the greatest environmental burden in all types of diseases and injuries, however, for certain NCDs, such as cardiovascular diseases and cancers, the per capita disease burden can also be relatively high in high-income countries.
Looking across more than 100 disease and injury categories, the report finds that the vast majority of environmentally-related deaths are due to cardiovascular diseases, such as stroke and ischaemic heart disease.
Statistics of death cases from the report consist of: Stroke – 2.5 million, ischaemic heart disease – 2.3 million, unintentional Injuries (e.g. road traffic deaths) – 1.7 million and cancers – 1.7 million deaths annually.
The rest are chronic respiratory diseases – 1.4 million, diarrhoeal diseases – 846,000, respiratory infections – 567,000, neonatal conditions – 270,000, malaria – 259,000 and intentional injuries (e.g. suicides) – 246,000 deaths annually.
The report cites proven strategies for improving the environment and preventing diseases.
For instance, using clean technologies and fuels for domestic cooking, heating and lighting would reduce acute respiratory infections, chronic respiratory diseases, cardiovascular diseases and burns.
Increasing access to safe water and adequate sanitation and promoting hand washing would further reduce diarrhoeal diseases.
It said tobacco smoke-free legislation reduces exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke, and thereby also reduces cardiovascular diseases and respiratory infections.
It said improving urban transit and urban planning, and building energy-efficient housing would reduce air pollution-related diseases and promote safe physical activity.