To understand the relationship between the environment and children’s health, The World Health Organization (WHO) recently conducted a comprehensive study: WHO Report: Children’s Environmental Health.
The results are shocking.
According to the WHO, more than three million children under five die each year from environment-related causes and conditions.
Three million is more than the population of Chicago.
Environment and Children’s Health Issues
As a result, the relationship between the environment and children’s health issues has become one of the most critical contributors to the global toll of child deaths annually.
These environmental risk factors include:
- Polluted indoor and outdoor air.
- Contaminated water.
- Lack of adequate sanitation.
- Toxic hazards.
- Synthetic pesticide use.
- Disease vectors.
- Ultraviolet radiation.
- Degraded ecosystems.
The environmental hazards and pollution are a major contributor to:
- Childhood deaths.
- Illnesses and disability from acute respiratory disease.
- Diarrheal diseases.
- Physical injuries.
- Insect-borne diseases.
- Perinatal infections.
Especially relevant, pregnant women living and working in hazardous environments and poor mothers and their children are at a higher risk:
- As a result, they are exposed to the most degraded environments.
- Also, they’re often unaware of the health implications.
- Finally, they lack access to information on potential solutions.
Health-damaging exposure to environmental risks can begin before birth:
- Lead in air, mercury in food and other chemicals can result in long-term, often irreversible effects.
- These health problems include infertility, miscarriage, and birth defects.
- In addition, women’s exposure to pesticides, solvents and persistent organic pollutants may potentially affect the health of the fetus.
- As a result, the health of the newborn may be affected by high levels of contaminants in breast milk.
- Finally, small children, whose bodies are rapidly developing, are particularly susceptible.
In many cases, low-cost solutions for environment and children’s health problems exist.
These solutions include:
- Simple filtration and disinfection of water at the household level.
- And improved stoves reduce exposures to indoor air pollution.
- Better storage and safe use of chemicals at community level.
- Personal protection from malaria through the use of insecticide-treated mosquito nets.
- Also, eliminating or reducing synthetic pesticide use by implementing an organic approach to agriculture.
Education is also key. Mothers should receive the information they need to understand the relationship between the environment and children’s health. Educated mothers are better equipped to take appropriate action to reduce or eliminate exposure.
The way forward
There are more than 600 million children under five in the world today. They represent the future of the planet and boundless human potential. However, only mothers who are themselves healthy, and in a position to provide a healthy, clean and safe environment can preserve their child’s right to life. Therefore, the WHO says it is important for everyone, at all walks of life, to work together to address key environmental hazards.
Finally, action to reduce and eliminate the key environmental hazards to childhood and maternal health will help “Make every child and mother count.”