Children's environmental health

Development of national profiles for children’s environmental health in South America, Latin America and the Caribbean

In 2003, several countries in Latin America and the Caribbean produced profiles of children’s environmental health, which provide information on the status of children’s environmental health and the country’s readiness to undertake activities to protect children from environmental hazards. Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru and Uruguay developed these profiles, in conjunction with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). They followed a specific format, which includes seven main sections: Introduction (contains information on key environmental issues, environmental burden of disease, etc.), National Government Role, Society Role, Science, Data and Reporting, Communication, and Conclusion.

Under the Data and Reporting section, there is a subsection on information systems and centres, which is particularly relevant to the indicators initiative. This section asks the following questions:

  • Does the country have a centralized information gathering function on health data? (e.g. health surveillance system)?
  • Does the country have national or private information centres, for example on health, demographics or environment?
  • Does the country require reporting of certain pediatric diseases to support public health surveillance and disease prevention and, if so, how is that information gathered?
  • Are there poison control centres in the country and, if so, do they record information from calls in a harmonized manner?
  • Does the country report indicators on environment or health?
  • Does the country put out regular reports on disease, public health or environmental conditions?

The summary of profiles for the Latin American and Caribbean region shows that information collection systems have grown with the worldwide information technology boom. Five of the six countries polled reported centralized systems on health and experience with health and population surveys. Some mentioned ability and interest in incorporating environment into some of the health reporting, e.g. Mexico. Across the region, certain diseases are tracked with a fair amount of success, such as malaria, tuberculosis, cholera, and measles. Additionally, countries collect information on environmental health issues, such as acute respiratory infections and acute diarrhoeal disease. Most countries collect some information on the environment, such as access to drinking water, sanitation, air monitoring data and recreational water quality. Data collection through a population census is fairly common, usually updated every 10 years.

Household surveys are conducted in some countries while other countries, for example Brazil and Uruguay, have fairly sophisticated data collection systems on health, nutrition, and reportable diseases. Some of the countries put out journals, updates or other publications on key health data on a yearly or more frequent basis and Peru reported having a poison control centre. Uruguay reported success with networking across sectors on information collection and several countries cited assistance received from international organizations on data collection.

Source: Regional Summary of Country Profiles on Children's Environmental Health in Latin America and the Caribbean, prepared by Martha Shimkin for PAHO. 2003.