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Mar
07
WHO Reports Environmental Hazards Cause 1.7 Million Child Deaths Annually

A recent World Health Organization (WHO) report links poor sanitation, contaminated water, and inadequate hygiene to the deaths of 1.7 million children worldwide per year.

The most common causes of death for one in four children under five, such as diarrhea, malaria, and pneumonia, could be prevented by improvements to water, air quality, and cleaning practices, according to the WHO report.

“A polluted environment results in a heavy toll on the health of our children,” said Dr. Maria Niera, WHO director of department of public health, environmental, and social determinants of health. “Investing in the removal of environmental risks to health, such as improving water quality or using cleaner fuels, will result in massive health benefits.”

Don’t pollute my future! The impact of the environment on children’s health

Background

In 2015, 5.9 million children under age five died. The major causes of child deaths globally are pneumonia, prematurity, intrapartum-related complications, neonatal sepsis, congenital anomalies, diarrhoea, injuries and malaria. Most of these diseases and conditions are at least partially caused by the environment. It was estimated in 2012 that 26% of childhood deaths and 25% of the total disease burden in children under five could be prevented through the reduction of environmental risks such as air pollution, unsafe water, sanitation and inadequate hygiene or chemicals.

Children are especially vulnerable to environmental threats due to their developing organs and immune systems, smaller bodies and airways. Harmful exposures can start as early as in utero. Furthermore, breastfeeding can be an important source of exposure to certain chemicals in infants; this should, however, not discourage breastfeeding which carries numerous positive health and developmental effects (4). Proportionate to their size, children ingest more food, drink more water and breathe more air than adults. Additionally, certain modes of behaviour, such as putting hands and objects into the mouth and playing outdoors can increase children’s exposure to environmental contaminants.


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