WHO: Diseases can be prevented by environment action

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A World Health Organization (WHO) report presenting country-specific data argues the case for disease prevention via environmental initiatives. 

The report, ‘Country Profiles of the Environmental Burden of Disease’ identifies country-specific data for 53 WHO European-region countries on the disease burden of, for example, respiratory infections, injuries or cancers that are preventable by improvements to a number of environmental factors – air pollution, ultraviolet radiation and the built environment. 

The authors of the report, published on 13 June 2007, indicate that “well-tested environmental-health interventions could reduce early deaths in the countries of the WHO European Region by almost 20%”. The lowest levels of risk are found in northern and western European countries, whereas some eastern eastern European countries are identified as having very high risk levels. 

Of the EU-27, the three Baltic countries Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are the worse off. Their respective burden of disease (disability-adjusted years of life lost – DALYs) due to environmental factors range between 18-20%, by comparison with the 13%, the lowest in the EU-27, of Cyprus. “The significant variations in the burden of disease between countries point to the potential preventable nature of many of these threats and offer us hope and a challenge for the future,” said Dr Marc Danzon, WHO Regional Director for Europe.

Children, in general, are most affected by environmental disease threats. When it comes to people of less than 19 years of age, “the proportion of deaths from environmental exposure increases to 34%,” the WHO states.

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