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Environmental Health

Environmental Health Concerns of WHO

Environmental health comprises those aspects of human health, including quality of life, that are determined by physical, chemical, biological, social and psychosocial factors in the environment. It also refers to the theory and practice of assessing correcting, controlling and preventing those factors in the environment that can potentially affect adversely the health of present and future generations.

(World Health Organization, 1993)

The Global Health Agenda as outlined in the WHO Eleventh General Programme of Work 2006-2015 has outlined a need for Environmental Health promotion under one of its seven priority areas, which is written as “Tackling the determinants of health”. It mentions that the health determinants are imperative to improve the health of the world’s most vulnerable people and reducing health inequalities. It has also outlined that the environment related health problems, as follows, need careful tacking through incorporation of various cross-cutting efforts which quite often goes beyond the influence of ministry of health;

-          living conditions with poor housing and overcrowding, inadequate sanitary facilities, and challenging communicable and vector-borne diseases

-          unhealthy lifestyles and nutrition transition that needs massive behavior change campaigns

-          growing urbanization, unhealthy work environment, and air pollution,

-          complexities with food safety and security, food habits and healthy diet; and threatened water supplies, and

-          climate change and its adverse impacts with extreme climatic behaviors, and need for preparedness to its mitigation and adaptation


In accordance with the Global Health Agenda, WHO’s priorities in Eleventh General Programme of Work 2006-2015, has equally focused for Environmental Health, and has elaborated it under one of its priorities namely  “ Providing support to countries in moving to universal coverage with effective public health interventions”, which is designed to include clusters such as communicable and non-communicable disease prevention and control; sexual and reproductive health; infant, child, adolescent and maternal health and the health of older persons; environment-related health problems, and effective response in terms of crisis; and research.

WHO South East Asia Regional Committee’s Sixty-first Session in September 2008 to be held in SEARO, New Delhi will propose and discuss a regional initiative on environment and health as follows;

Action by Member States:

1.            increase financial resources for better environmental health;

2.            develop/update NEHAPs, including emerging environmental health issues;

3.            promote active participation of the private sector and of NGOs in environmental health programmes and compile success stories;

4.            promote healthy public policies; and

5.            collaborate with technical working groups of the regional ministerial forum for environment and health

Action by WHO/SEARO

1.            Assist Member Countries in the review of NEHAPs

2.            Support Member Countries to identify, address environmental factors and mitigate the adverse health effects

3.            support research to assess risk factors and health impacts of global warming and climate change; and

4.            Provide technical support and capacity building for health impact assessments, on strategies for healthy public policies and on the sound management of hazardous substances, including health care wastes.

Public Health and Environment Health Topics

·         Indoor air pollution :

Exposure to indoor air pollution from solid fuels has been linked to many diseases, in particular pneumonia among children and chronic respiratory diseases among adults.

·         Outdoor air pollution :

Air pollution continues to pose a significant threat to health worldwide. Many countries around the world do not have regulations on air pollution.

·         Chemical safety :

Ensures early warning and prevention of harmful effects of chemicals to which humans are being increasingly exposed, and assesses potential risks to human health.

·         Children’s environmental health :

Child survival and development hinge on basic needs to support life; among these, a safe, healthy and clean environment is fundamental.

·         Electromagnetic fields :

Electric and magnetic fields are part of the spectrum of electromagnetic radiation which extends from static electric and magnetic fields, through radiofrequency and infrared radiation, to X-rays.

·         Environmental health in emergencies :

Death and disease burden from emergencies, disasters and disease outbreaks associated with environmental risk factors can be significantly reduced by effective prevention, preparedness and response capacities.

·         Environmental health impact assessment :

Health Impact Assessment provides decision makers with information about how any policy, programme or project may affect the health of people.

·         Global environmental change :

Large-scale and global environmental hazards to human health include climate change, ozone depletion, loss of biodiversity and much more.

·         Health and environment linkages initiative: 

Is a global effort by WHO and UNEP to support action by developing country policy makers on environmental problems to health?

·         Healthy settings :

Healthy Settings, the settings-based approaches to health promotion, involve a holistic and multi-disciplinary method which integrates action across risk factors. The goal is to maximize disease prevention via a "whole system" approach. The settings approach has roots in the WHO Health for All strategy and, more specifically, the Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion. Healthy Settings key principles include community participation, partnership, empowerment and equity. Read more

·         Ionizing radiation :

The aim of the Radiation and Environmental Health Programme is to look for solutions to protect human health from ionizing radiation hazards by raising people's awareness of the potential health risks.

·         Occupational health :

Workplace fatalities, injuries and illnesses remain at unacceptably high levels and involve an enormous and unnecessary health burden, suffering, and economic loss.

·         Quantifying environmental health impacts :

The environmental burden of disease quantifies the amount of disease caused by environmental risks.

·         Ultraviolet radiation :

Small amounts of UV are essential for the production of vitamin D in people, yet overexposure may result in acute and chronic health effects on the skin, eye and immune system.

·         Water, sanitation and health :

WHO works on aspects of water, sanitation and hygiene where the health burden is high, where interventions could make a major difference and where the present state of knowledge is poor.


Children’s Environmental Health

Global environmental change

Water, sanitation and health

Environmental health impact assessment

Indoor air pollution

Outdoor air pollution

Chemical Safety

Electromagnetic Fields

Environmental health in emergencies

Healthy settings

Occupational Health

Ultraviolet radiation

Ionizing Radiation

Health and environment linkages initiative

Quantifying environmental health impacts