Environmentally Induced Illnesses

Almost a Quarter of All Disease Is Caused By Environmental Exposures

16 JUNE 2006 | Geneva —

As much as 24% of global disease is caused by environmental exposures which can be averted. Well-targeted interventions can prevent much of these environmental hazards, the World Health Organization (WHO) demonstrates in a report issued today. The report further estimates that more than 33% of disease in children under the age of 5 is caused by environmental exposures. Preventing environmental hazards could save as many as four million lives a year in children alone . . .

The report, Preventing Disease Through Healthy Environments . . . breaks new ground in understanding the interactions between environment and health. The estimate reflects how much death, illness and disability could be realistically avoided every year as a result of better environmental management.

Dr Anders Nordström, Acting WHO Director-General states:

“We have always known that the environment influences health very profoundly, but these estimates are the best to date. This will help us to demonstrate that wise investment to create a supportive environment can be a successful strategy in improving health and achieving development that is sustainable.”

. . . Dr Maria Neira, Director of WHO’s Department for Public Health and Environment states:

“For the first time, this new report shows how specific diseases and injuries are influenced by environmental risks and by how much. It also shows very clearly the gains that would accrue both to public health and to the general environment by a series of straightforward, coordinated investments. We call on ministries of health, environment and other partners to work together to ensure that these environmental and public health gains become a reality.”

. . . Diseases with the largest absolute number of deaths annually from modifiable environmental factors (which are all parts of the environment amenable to change using available technologies, policies, preventive and public health measure).

These diseases include:

  • 2.6 million deaths annually from cardiovascular diseases
  • 1.7 million deaths annually from diarrheal diseases
  • 1.5 million deaths annually from lower respiratory infections
  • 1.4 million deaths annually from cancers
  • 1.3 million deaths annually from chronic obstructive Pulmonary disease

. . . The report shows that one way or another, the environment significantly affects more than 80% of these major diseases. Moreover, it looks to quantify only those environmental hazards that are modifiable – that is, those that are readily amenable to change through policies or technologies that already exist. The report also spells out us how much environment-related disease is preventable.