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A healthier environment could save thousands of lives a year in the Eastern Mediterranean Region

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15 March 2016 | Cairo – In 2012, an estimated 854 000 people died as a result of living or working in an unhealthy environment in the Eastern Mediterranean Region – nearly one in 5 of total deaths in this Region, according to new estimates from the World Health Organization (WHO). Environmental risk factors, such as air, water and soil pollution, chemical exposures, climate change and ultraviolet radiation, contribute to more than 100 diseases and injuries.

The second edition of the report "Preventing disease through healthy environments: a global assessment of burden of disease from environmental risks" reveals that since the report was first published a decade ago, deaths due to noncommunicable diseases, linked primarily to air pollution and chemical exposures, are amounting annually to as much as 450 000 of these deaths in the Region. Accordingly, noncommunicable diseases, such as stroke, heart disease, cancers and chronic respiratory disease, now amount to more than half of the total deaths caused by unhealthy environments. 

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 and decreases in households using solid fuels for cooking have been key contributors to this decline, alongside better access to immunization, insecticide-treated mosquito nets and essential medicines. Despite the decline, the burden of infectious diseases is still of major concern in many countries of the Region, including those affected by civil unrest and crises. 

“Over one fifth of the burden of communicable diseases, noncommunicable diseases and injuries in our Region is attributable to environmental risks that can be modified,” says Dr Ala Alwan, WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean. “With our Member States, we have developed a regional strategy on health and the environment to reduce those risks in our homes, cities and workplaces. National authorities in Member States need to start implementing this strategy in order to provide healthy environments to their population and reduce avoidable death and diseases.”

Environmental risks take their greatest tool on young children and older people, the report finds, with children under 5 and adults aged 50 to 75 years the most impacted. Lower respiratory infections and diarrhoeal diseases mostly impact children under 5, while noncommunicable diseases and injuries impact older adults.

Top causes of environmentally-related deaths in the Region

Looking across more than 100 disease and injury categories, the report finds that the vast majority of environmentally-related deaths are estimated to be due to cardiovascular diseases, such as stroke and ischaemic heart disease. 


Health conditions 

 Estimated annual deaths caused by environmental risks

1 Ischaemic heart disease 169 272
2 Unintentional injuries 157 469
3 Stroke 126 762
4 Respiratory infections  77 633 
5 Diarrhoeal diseases  75 939
6 Cancers   68 192
7 Chronic respiratory diseases  51 540
8 Neonatal conditions  38 304
9 Tuberculosis  18 611
10 Hypertensive heart disease  9 174

Environmental disease burden is preventable

The report cites proven strategies for improving the environment and preventing diseases. For instance, using clean technologies and fuels for domestic cooking, heating and lighting would reduce acute respiratory infections, chronic respiratory diseases, cardiovascular diseases and burns. Increasing access to safe water and adequate sanitation and promoting hand-washing would further reduce diarrhoeal diseases. Improving urban transit and urban planning, and building energy-efficient housing would reduce air pollution-related diseases and promote safe physical activity. 

Under the Healthy Cities initiative, WHO encourages local governments to incorporate health issues into all aspects of public policy. For example, the Emirate of Sharjah, in the United Arab Emirates, took measures to improve the health care system and social welfare infrastructure. In partnership with the private sector, sustainable solutions are being provided in environmental and resource management. Sharjah reached approximately zero-waste to landfill by diverting 100% of its waste through recycling and conversion. 

Currently, WHO is working with countries to take action on both indoor and outdoor air pollution. At the World Health Assembly in May, WHO will propose a road map for an enhanced global response by the health sector aimed at reducing the adverse health effects of air pollution. 

Read the report

Preventing disease through healthy environments: a global assessment of the burden of disease from environmental risks

For more information please contact:

In Amman
Basel Al-Yousfi
WHO Amman
tel +962-6-5524655
mobile +962-79-6746746
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In Cairo
Rana Sidani
WHO Cairo
tel: +20-2-22765552
mobile +201099756506
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