World Health Day

New Delhi, India
6 April 2003

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, Friends and Colleagues,

We are here today, on World Health Day, to stress our commitment to protecting three of our greatest assets: health, the environment and our children. Ensuring Healthy Environments for Children is vital to our efforts to help shape the future of life.

From India to Ireland, from China to Chile, the biggest threats to children’s health today are found in the very places that should be safest – their homes, their schools and their communities. The themes in this wonderful poster exhibit before us today presents a bright vision of the promise of this generation, and of future generations all over the world. I thank the children gathered here for helping to keep us grounded in this vision.

It is a terrible truth that every year over five million children under fourteen years of age die from diseases directly related to risks in their immediate environments.

Unsafe water, poor hygiene and sanitation, outdoor air pollution, dirty household fuels used for cooking and heating, tobacco smoke, hazardous chemicals and other environmental threats affect the health of children, even more than they do adults.

Air pollution alone is a major contributor to acute respiratory infections, which claim around two million children every year. Children also die of diarrhoea, malaria, injuries, and accidental poisoning. They die from road accidents. Let’s be clear – all of these deaths are preventable.

We have strategies to prevent these deaths and ill-health. Right here in Delhi, due to the commitment of the Delhi Government, there are excellent examples of the will to reduce these risks, by reducing vehicle emissions in the city and encouraging new and safer forms of transport such as the new Delhi Metro.

Here in India, Government recognition and involvement in creating a movement that caters directly to children and their communities is clearly apparent. The support here today – and throughout the year – of both the Ministers of Health and Environment is testimony to the Indian Government’s commitment to ensuring healthy environments for children.

At this very moment across India today, in dozens of communities, teachers, local governments, civil society groups, medical professionals and children are participating in events to build even more momentum and to support solutions to minimize environmental risks.

In fact, this movement is taking strong shape right around the world. On this World Health Day, there are hundreds of events similar to this one, taking place in countries everywhere. These are supported by a similarly impressive range of actors. To mention just one of them, the South African Minister of Health, Mrs Mantonbazana Tshabalala is launching a national Healthy Environments for Children movement in her country.

This global movement, the Healthy Environments for Children Alliance, set in motion only last year in September at the World Summit on Sustainable Development, is growing quickly.

This Alliance must continue to grow. We must strive for the highest possible quality of life for our children, free from environmental risks. It is these kinds of efforts – and more – which are imperative to build wide-ranging support for improving the environments in which children live, learn and play. The Healthy Environments for Children Alliance is advocating a new, holistic approach to tackling the six major classes of environmental risks to children’s health – an approach which offers simple, cost-effective strategies.

Today, on World Health Day, we are calling on all stakeholders in the health of future generations – globally, nationally and locally - to become part of the movement. To make changes in the home, in the school, in the community. Your actions will change, and will save, children’s lives. Support today, expressed here by the Government of India, of Delhi, and around the world, is crucial to this work.

You, the children gathered here today – are witness to these pledges. You represent the future. Thank you for being here, to celebrate this day, which is dedicated to your health and well-being. I look forward to the days and months ahead, to the actions which will keep you safe and well in your homes, schools and neighbourhoods.

Thank you.