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Support rolls in for WHO's new "Healthy Environments for Children" Initiative

Endorsements for the World Health Organization’s new initiative aimed at galvanizing action to create healthy environments for children came in from many quarters at its top-level function in Johannesburg last night.

WHO announced its new initiative during the World Summit on Sustainable Development yesterday, to address urgent concerns about the impact of unhealthy environments which contributed to the deaths of over 4.7 million children under five in 2000.

The global alliance will mobilize wide-ranging partners for a broad movement on healthy environments for children. Scientifically proven research will form the basis of cost-effective action and time-bound results to save the lives of millions of children.

Last night, royalty, health ministers, heads of UN agencies, the European Commission, NGO’s, and youth gave strong support for the initiative which was described as “bold, timely, and very important” by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

The Princess of Thailand, her Royal Highness Chulabhorn Mahidol, endorsed the alliance and expressed her interest in supporting the initiative. The South African Health Minister, Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, said the country was very excited about the initiative, and was the first to join the alliance.

These views were echoed by delegates from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Canada, Côte d’Ivoire, Hungary, Indonesia, and Moldova. Heads of UN agencies such as the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), and UN Habitat, as well as NGO’s such as Doctors for the Environment, also declared their strong support and commitment.

“This global alliance will build on our extensive experience with multi-partner initiatives such as the polio eradication drive, Roll Back Malaria, Stop TB, and the Tobacco-Free Initiative which is pioneering the first public health treaty known as the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control,” said Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, WHO Director-General.“We are committed to driving this initiative forward speedily. Immediately after the World Summit, we will firm up plans so that we can have activities up and running within six months, and agree on measurable targets with our alliance partners,” said Dr Brundtland.

At last night’s function, Dr Brundtland received the Swedish City of Göteborg’s International Environment Prize for 2002 -- worth 1 million kronor (about $100 000) -- for her “visionary and innovative work during the 80s which laid the foundation for all the pioneering work around Agenda 21”. In accepting the award, Dr Brundtland announced that she would donate her prize to the new initiative to “get work off to a flying start.”

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For more information contact:

Ms Melinda Henry
Telephone: +41 (22) 791 2535
Mobile phone: +41 (79) 477 1738
Fax: +41 (22) 791 4858
E-mail: henrym@who.int