WHO adopts action plan to protect children’s health

Ministers from 52 European states, including Russia and neighbouring countries, have adopted an action plan to reduce the impact of the environment on health, in particular that of children.

The WHO sets out four priority goals for Europe:

  • Safe water and adequate sanitation for all
    children
    : The overarching goal is to ensure that all
    children in Europe have access to clean water and sanitation by
    2015. Actions include providing child care institutions and schools
    with the appropriate infrastructure. National strategies are to be
    put in place to increase the proportion of households with access
    to safe and affordable water and sanitation facilities.
  • Protection from injuries and adequate physical
    activity
    : Road safety measures are to be taken such as
    reduced speed limits in the vicinity of schools. Physical activity
    is to be promoted in order to reduce obesity among children.
  • Clean outdoor and indoor air: To improve indoor
    air quality and reduce respiratory diseases such as asthma,
    regulations will be applied to construction and furnishing
    materials. To improve outdoor air quality, the conference called
    upon car manufacturers to equip new diesel engines with particle
    filters. Ministers also vowed to develop legislative and regulatory
    measures as well as economic incentives.
  • Chemical-free environments: Ministers declared
    that they would enforce legislation and regulations to reduce the
    exposure of children and pregnant women to hazardous
    chemicals.

 

Environmental groups criticised the EU’s
"lack of leadership" at the WHO European Regional Conference in
Budapest. They regretted that the Commission's proposed Environment
and Health Action Plan "does not foresee any legislative action and
misses the opportunity to support the upcoming REACH Regulation on
chemicals". "The European Environment and Health strategy [SCALE]
could be an excellent place to set indicators and monitoring for
priority chemicals to be controlled under REACH, the future EU
chemicals regulation," said Stefan Scheuer from the
European Environmental Bureau. "But, instead, the
European Commission prefers to listen to self-interested stories
from the chemicals industry rather than to propose action to
protect children from chemical contamination," he said.

"The environments of our children - their air, water, food,
consumer products, homes and schools - are contaminated with
cocktails of low levels of gases and particles from fossil fuel
combustion, of largely untested chemicals and of other
environmental 'stressors' such as noise, damp, microbes and tobacco
smoke," said Prof. Jacqueline McGlade, executive director at the
European Environment Agency (EEA). "More and
better information on the effects of environmental pollutants on
children is needed if society is to end its large-scale experiment
with children's health," McGlade told ministers at the WHO
conference in Budapest. "Overall, reducing environmental pollutants
and stressors could lead to reductions in perhaps 5-20% of
environmentally induced deaths, diseases and disabilities in
Europe's children, with significant savings to future health and
education budgets," she stated.

Speaking at the conference, Commissioner Pavel Telicka said that
the Commission is well aware of its responsibility as the EU covers
about half the countries represented at the con ference. "We will
now need to be careful that when extending the scope of interest
and actions, we do not deflect our attention from these core
competences and interests," he told the ministers. He added that
attention should be given to regional disparities in Europe and in
particular the specific requirements of the countries in Central
and Eastern Europe.

The European Community of
Consumer Co-operatives (EURO COOP) said the
Commission's Environment and Health strategy (SCALE) and related
action plan "fails to address how the various existing programmes
and initiatives should be co-ordinated". EURO COOP mentions the 6th
Environmental Action Programme, the EU Public Health Programme for
2003-2008, and the proposal on a new chemical policy, REACH.

 

Ministers from 52 European countries have adopted a
declaration and action plan on children's health at a WHO
conference in Budapest. Entitled, 'The future for our children',
the conference focused on the impact of environmental factors on
children's health.

The Commission's contribution came only days before the meeting
in the form of an Environment and Health Action Plan for the period
2004-2010 (see

).

 

  • National environment and health action plans with
    child-specific actions are to be put in place by 2007 at the
    latest.
  • A mid-term review intergovernmental meeting will be held at the
    end of 2007.
  • The next European Conference on Environment and Health will be
    held in 2009.

 

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