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12.6 Million People Die of Work-Related Environment Globally Every Year: WHO

Globally, 12.6 million people die every year from diseases and injuries attributable to the environments in which they live and work. Simply put, 1 in every 4 persons die of unhealthy work environment. These deaths, including from air, water and soil pollution, radiation, chemical exposure and unsafe workplaces, make up 23% of the total number of fatalities each year, and 26% of deaths in children below five years of age, a new report released by the World Health Organization (WHO) has said. These conditions are responsible for 100 diseases and injuries reported from work place. The report “”Preventing Diseases Through Health Environments: A Global assessment of the Burden of Disease from Environmantal Risk’’ estimates that in the WHO South-East Asia Region 3.8 million deaths can be attributed to diseases linked to the environment. While there has been progress in increasing access to improved drinking water, a large burden of diarrheal disease remains due to issues related to safety of drinking water, poor sanitation and waste management.

It is vital that we continue with efforts to ensure safer water and sanitation for all. At the same time, deaths from infectious diseases, such as diarrhoea and malaria, often related to poor water, sanitation and waste management have declined. Increases in access to safe water and sanitation have been key contributors to this decline, alongside better access to immunization, insecticide-treated mosquito nets and essential medicines, the report says. Environmental risks take their greatest toll on young children and older people, the report finds, with children under 5 and adults aged 50 to 75 years most impacted. Yearly, the deaths of 1.7 million children under 5 and 4.9 million adults aged 50 to 75 could be prevented through better environmental management. Lower respiratory infections and diarrhoeal diseases mostly impact children under 5, while older people are most impacted by NCDs.

Everyone is aware of the growing Region-wide burden of non-communicable diseases that are being caused by the environment. Last year the Region was reported to be home to 14 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities, with air pollution leading to increases in cardiovascular diseases such as strokes and ischaemic heart disease, as well as cancer. Household air pollution from the burning of solid fuels such as wood, animal dung and crop waste for cooking purposes, meanwhile, results in 1.69 million premature deaths in the Region annually and is responsible for half of the pneumonia deaths in children under 5 years of age. Unsafe environments, the report says, are taking their toll in many other ways, and affect the elderly and the young disproportionately. Road accidents and related injuries are a major cause of death every year while unsafe working conditions contribute to an unnecessary burden of ill-health, injury and disease, with occupational cancer and unintentional poisonings a distinctive feature for the South-East Asian region. Armed with this data and a better understanding of the interactions between the environment and our health we can do much to save lives and reduce pain and suffering. Effective and simple interventions exist to help us do this.

Effective planning, the report says, can better organize towns and cities to manage the pressures of urbanization and facilitate positive health outcomes. Air pollution from vehicles and industry can be better managed through multi-sector planning and commitment, while exposure to household air pollution can be mitigated by increasing access to cleaner fuels. Some of these measures are already being rolled-out across the Region. Further, raising the living standards of the poor and marginalized and enhancing access to clean water and adequate sanitation will also diminish the prevalence of infectious diseases and contribute greatly to a community’s health.

“”Similarly, strong legislation can dis-incentivize the cutting of corners with regards to workplace safety and instead promote the highest attainable standard of health as an imperative that bows to no interests. Labor must be protected from hazards in the work environment such as harmful chemicals or inadequately maintained machinery that can result in fatal diseases and injuries. Labor must also be afforded the personal protective equipment necessary to stay safe and healthy at work,”” Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, South-East Asia Region of WHO says. Creating healthy environments is something that is beyond an individual’s responsibility. With informed planning and firm commitment at multiple levels in society we can create healthy environments in our communities, workplaces and cities and avoid unnecessary deaths and ill-health. This is an outcome that must be pursued, Dr Singh says.”

By TIS Staffer
the authorBy TIS Staffer

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