One in three child deaths in Europe caused by environment, says WHO

A study by the WHO identified injuries including road traffic accidents, lead intoxication, air pollution and poor water quality supply as the biggest child killers in Europe.

Ministers from 52 European countries meeting this week in
Budapest for a conference on environment and health will discuss a
WHO study assessing the impact of the environment on children’s
health. Ministers from 52 European countries meeting this week in
Budapest for a conference on environment and health will discuss a
WHO study assessing the impact of the environment on children’s
health.

The study identifies the five biggest child killers on the
European continent including Russia and central Asia. The results
show great disparities between three regional sub-groups, which can
be roughly compared to western, central and eastern Europe (regions
A, B and C respectively).

  • Injuries remain the leading cause of death among
    children and adolescents from birth to 19 years across Europe, the
    report says. In 2001, 13,450 died from injuries in western Europe
    alone, with road traffic accidents the single largest cause of
    death. Other major fatal injuries include fire, drowning and
    poisoning.
  • Lead is the single most important reason for
    illnesses in all three sub-regional groups. In western Europe,
    14,092 children aged between 0-4 years were believed to suffer from
    mental disorders attributable to blood lead in 2001. And the
    numbers rise to 156,619 when the other two regions are added. Known
    effects include learning disabilities, attention and visuospatial
    disorders and anaemia.
  • Air pollution, both indoors and outdoors, are
    another major source of concern. Up to 13,000 deaths per year among
    children aged 0-4 years are attributed to pollution from
    particulate matters across Europe, 10,000 of which have occurred in
    the B region comprising Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia and
    Turkey. As for indoor air pollution, household solid fuels are said
    to account for some 10.000 deaths per year among children aged 0-4
    years, almost all of which (90%) have occurred in zone B. The
    report says that an estimated 9,000 lives or more could be saved
    each year if households could climb up the so-called “energy
    ladder”, shifting from solid fuels to cleaner liquid or gas
    fuels.
  • Poor
    water, sanitation and hygiene are an important
    cause of child mortality, particularly in the former USSR. In
    region B, 11,876 were listed to have died in 2001. Figures are much
    lower for western Europe where 63 children died from poor quality
    water supply on the same year. Overall, the WHO estimates at 2
    million the number of children in Europe who do not have access to
    clean water and who are exposed to high risks of diarrhoeal
    diseases.

The marked differences across the region and across age groups
indicate the need for targeted action, for example in specific
countries, regions, or populations, the WHO indicated.

 

"Although the report carries some ominous warnings, it also
opens the door to a healthier future for Europe's children," said
Dr Marc Danzon,
WHO Regional Director for Europe. "This unique
report (...) provides a framework for policy-makers to prioritise
actions and protect our children's health from environmental
hazards," Danzon said. Speaking to the BBC, the lead author of the
report, Georgio Tamburlini from the WHO said "there should be
legislation about driving with no alcohol, about slowing the speed
in urban areas and planning settlements so that children can play,
walk and go to school safely".

 

On 23-25 June in Budapest, the World Health Organisation
(WHO) is holding a ministerial conference on environment and health
which will focus on children's health in particular. The study,
entitled 'The Environmental Burden of Disease', is the WHO's
contribution to the conference and calls on ministers to adopt the
proposed children's environment and health action plan for Europe
(CEHAPE).

At EU level, the Commission recently published its Environment
and Health Action Plan for the period 2004-2010 as its own
contribution to the ministerial conference (see

). The action plan is part of the
known as the 'SCALE'
initiative (Science, Children, Awareness raising, Legal instruments
and Evaluation).

 

  • The WHO fourth ministerial conference on environment and health
    will take place in Budapest on 23-25 June 2004. The ministers are
    expected to adopt the children's environment and health action plan
    for Europe (CEHAPE) to be tabled there
  • The Commission will produce a mid-term review of the
    Environment and Health action plan in 2007

 

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