|Press Release WHO/32
15 June 1999
ENVIRONMENTAL ACTION IS KEY TO IMPROVED HEALTH, WHO DIRECTOR-GENERAL SAYS
LONDON Environmental action is a key factor for improving health conditions in Europe, Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, WHO Director-General said here Wednesday.
"Focused investments in education, healthy work conditions, environmental sanitation and a safe water supply, are extremely effective in improving health and wellbeing, as well as in increasing productivity and economic growth", Dr Brundtland told delegates at London '99, the Third European Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health. "We need to take this message to decision-makers and remind Prime Ministers and Finance Ministers that they are indeed Health Ministers themselves."
London '99 is the biggest ministerial conference ever held in Europe on environment and health. It draws together ministers of health, environment, and transport to bring European environmental and health policies forward. The key results of the conference are a Protocol on Water and Health; a Charter on Transport, Environment and Health; and the London Declaration that sums up the intent to confront European health and environmental issues together.
Although there has been remarkable progress in environmental conditions in the European region over the past few decades which has led to longer and healthier lives for millions of people, environmental hazards are still a significant cause of disease burden, Dr Brundtland warned.
She said outdoor air pollution accounts for 3-4% of the burden of premature mortality and disability in Eastern Europe and causes at least half a million deaths worldwide each year. Poor water, sanitation and hygiene practices add to this disease burden, causing an estimated 7-8% of all disease and injury in developing countries.
Indoor air pollution is emerging as a major contributor to ill-health, primarily from respiratory diseases. The majority of this hazard occurs in the developing world, but the potential exists for an increase in disease burden from both indoor and outdoor air pollution in Europe. "Strict public health vigilance is required," warned Dr Brundtland.
Dr Brundtland also said that consumers have a right to expect that products on the shelves do not contain substances dangerous to their health. In a number of areas, there are clear recommendations as to the level of exposure.
"Countries must take these recommendations seriously and guarantee that reliable and accurate control mechanisms are put in place," she insisted.
World Health Organization (WHO) and Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) are establishing specific guidelines for dioxins in food, Dr Brundtland announced.
"Europeans must help and support each other to advance an agenda which is by nature common," Dr Brundtland said. "Europe the cradle of democracy has a special responsibility. We have learnt that we cannot hope for change towards sustainable development without democracy, freedom of speech and access to information."
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