Health and the environment
Health and the environment
The issue of health and the environment is an aspect on which France intends to focus at the international level. While environmental issues are widely debated at the international level today, the impact on health is not always taken adequately into consideration. Environmental conditions may have a harmful effect on human health in many ways - through exposure to physical, chemical and biological risk factors, and through the subsequent changes in our behaviour in response to these factors. Some of the most urgent problems include climate changes, unsustainable management of water resources, which are notoriously inadequate in terms of quantity and quality in developing countries, the need to develop wide-scale sewage systems, or management of all types of waste that pollutes the water, air and food as well.
Global warming promotes the proliferation of insects, vectors that cause the proliferation, emergence or re-emergence of many diseases, such as malaria, dengue fever, chikungunya fever, and other neglected tropical diseases, the geographic distribution of which might be completely renewed. The other consequence will be the appearance of “climate refugees” accompanied by health and social problems related to displaced persons.
While no region in the world is spared, Africa is the main continent concerned by all of these risk factors. The continent must cope with traditional challenges, such as lack of access to healthy drinking water, inadequate hygiene and sewage systems, badly designed irrigation and water supply systems, infrastructures, roads and buildings in bad repair, inadequate housing, undersized waste disposal and processing systems, but must also address the challenges of new and emerging problems, including the effects of climate change on health, accelerated urbanization and air pollution, which are not actually measured in a reliable manner at this time.
From an environmental standpoint, concerns are focussed on the loss of biological diversity (including products and services related to the ecosystem, and medicinal plants), damage to the ecosystem and the lack of capacities to cope with the impacts of the rapid changes at the global level as well as local environmental disasters. Some of the most recent ones include the pipeline leaks in Nigeria and Cameroon, landfill dumping of imported industrial toxic waste in Cote d’Ivoire and Guinea-Conakry, toxic gas fumes from Lake Nyoos in Cameroon, and lead poisoning in the suburbs of Dakar following uncontrolled recycling of automobile batteries.
Despite these dramatic events, the issue of environmental dangers to health is not yet garnering the same mobilization as other causes, such as the fight against poverty or HIV/AIDS, for example. And yet, environmental factors are a major cause of morbidity in developing countries and emerging countries, that do not have laws that make it possible to tackle these problems in their entirety.
In view of these observations, the international community must recognize the direct link between the environment and health and the need to give health an important position on the global environmental agenda.
It does not entail merely implementing policies of access to services that will probably make it possible to prevent and reduce “traditional” problems such as inadequate drinking water service, the precariousness of hygiene and sanitation conditions and poor waste (including hospital) management. It now entails developing global policies combining health, water and sanitation, energy, urbanization and transport, with a view to anticipating and limiting the impact of human interventions and the consequences of climate change on health, taking into account the increased number of storms, droughts and floods.
To this end, it is key that the different technical ministries involved work closely together.
The ministerial conference in Libreville for African countries
The first interministerial conference on Health and the Environment in Africa, on the theme, “Health security comes from a healthy environment”, was organized in Libreville in August 2008. It is a WHO/UNEP initiative, intended to raise the awareness of African countries about environmental consequences on health and to combat them.
This conference was aimed at the countries of Africa, with, for the first time, the association of ministers responsible for health and the environment. They agreed to apply the Libreville Declaration, which has 11 points for the countries themselves and three points for the partners. The strategic health and environment alliance is recognized as the top priority. The other points concern the frameworks of intervention, which must be national and sub-regional, health- and environment-related objectives to include in poverty reduction strategies, institutional reinforcement, going through that of existing institutions, research, which must be stepped up and coordinated, networking of centres that are already active and the establishment of risk surveillance and assessment systems are not in the declaration but are topics to bring up in the future. This declaration comes with a road map and a second conference will be organized in autumn 2010 to review the progress made.
This conference was the opportunity to launch the report of the “Reinforcing the links between health and development” initiative, which aims to ensure that the decision-makers have the elements required to take health- and environment-related considerations into account, in particular in the context of economic development.
France, which conveys this theme in the main international fora and in particular within the WHO, supported the organization of this meeting, where it participated by discussing France’s experience with the Grenelle de l’Environnement (Environment Round Table), the existence of its network of sanitation engineers that can help the countries of Africa assess their needs and its support for research centres on the emergence of diseases in Africa.
For more information :
WHO (Libreville conference)
UNEP (Libreville declaration)
Updated on : 09.04.10