The World Health Organization (WHO) today released the first ever country-by-country analysis of the impact that environmental factors have on health, and it revealed that 13 million deaths worldwide could be prevented every year by making environments healthier.
The report shows huge inequalities but also demonstrate that in every country, people's health could be improved by reducing environmental risks, including pollution, hazards in the work environment, UV radiation, noise, agricultural risks, climate and ecosystem change.
In some countries, more than one third of the disease burden could be prevented through environmental improvements. The worst affected countries include Angola, Burkina Faso and Mali, as well as Afghanistan.
In 23 countries worldwide, more than 10 percent of deaths are due to just two environmental risk factors: unsafe water, including poor sanitation and hygiene; and indoor air pollution due to solid fuel use for cooking.
Around the world, children below five years of age are the main victims and make up 74 percent of deaths due to diarrhoeal disease and lower respiratory infections.
Low-income countries suffer the most from environmental health factors, losing about 20 times more healthy years of life per person per year than high-income countries. However, the data show that no country is immune from the environmental impact on health. Even in countries with better environmental conditions, almost one sixth of the disease burden could be prevented, and efficient environmental interventions could significantly reduce cardiovascular disease and road traffic injuries.
"These country estimates are a first step towards assisting national decision-makers in the sectors of health and environment to set priorities for preventive action," said Susanne Weber-Mosdorf, WHO Assistant Director-General for Sustainable Development and Healthy Environments.
"It is important to quantify the burden of disease from unhealthy environments. This information is key to help countries select the appropriate interventions," she added. The country profiles provided a preliminary estimate of health impacts caused by environmental risks. The new data could be used by the countries to refine their own estimates.
The data also show that household interventions could dramatically reduce the death rate. Using cleaner fuel such as gas or electricity, using better cooking devices, improving the ventilation or modifying people's behaviour (such as keeping children away from smoke) could have a major impact on respiratory infections and diseases among women and children.