Launch of new WHO webinar series on environment and health tools

On 10 April 2018, the WHO Regional Office for Europe launched a new webinar series on environment and health tools, which was organized jointly by the WHO Regions for Health Network (RHN), the WHO European Centre for Environment and Health and the Environment and Health Process Secretariat.

In the WHO European Region, environmental factors that can be avoided or eliminated cause 1.4 million deaths each year and have a major impact on health in the form of noncommunicable diseases, disability and unintentional injury.

The provision of healthy urban environments has long been the foundation of public health and is still of crucial importance. The United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development highlights the inseparable links between development, environment, human health and well-being, and commits governments and public authorities to developing coherent, multisectoral strategies for improving environmental conditions for health.  Such action not only provides significant benefits for health and well-being, but also contributes to health equity as environmental hazards tend disproportionately to affect the socially disadvantaged and vulnerable population groups.

With a view to improving environmental conditions in the WHO European Region, the Sixth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health (Ostrava, Czech Republic, 13–15 June 2017) highlighted action at the subnational level as one of the priorities for the future. Thus, the WHO Regional Office for Europe has produced a range of tools, guidelines and briefs to support environmental leadership at that level. The material provides an overview of the most pressing environmental health challenges that European regions and cities are facing and presents methods of and opportunities for action in assessing and responding to them.

The new webinar series encourages commitment to and synergy on action related to environment and health at the subnational level. Although it was developed for use at this level (for example, by RHN), it is also open to networks at other levels  (such as the Healthy Cities Network and the Small Countries Initiative), and others who may be interested in the topic.

The aim of the first webinar, which involved around 30 participants from RHN,  was to introduce the new series, present the WHO European Environment and Health Process and the results of the Sixth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health, and provide an overview of the tools and guidelines that will be the subject of later webinars in the series.

Srdan Matic, Coordinator, Environment and Health Process, Noncommunicable Diseases and Environment, WHO Regional Office for Europe, highlighted the crucial roles of the subnational level in developing action to address the public health priorities recognized at the Sixth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health, such as: improving air quality for all; ensuring access to safe drinking-water, sanitation and hygiene for all; minimizing the adverse effects of chemicals; preventing and eliminating the adverse effects of waste management and contaminated sites; strengthening adaptation to and mitigation of climate change; supporting cities and regions in becoming healthier; and building the environmental sustainability of health systems.

Francesca Racioppi, Senior Policy and Programme Adviser, Environment and Health Policy and Governance, WHO Regional Office for Europe, introduced the online “Health economic assessment tool (HEAT) for walking and cycling”, which is freely available on the WHO website.  This software was created specifically for use by civil servants, policy-makers and people responsible for transport and urban planning at the local level in the 53 WHO Member States in the European Region. The result of a collaborative intersectoral project, it provides information about the health benefits of active mobility, like walking and cycling, and enables users without expertise in impact assessment to conduct economic assessments of the health effects of such exercise. Based on the best available evidence, the tool is user friendly and adaptable to the needs of a wide variety of professionals at both the national and local levels.

Dorota Jarosinska, Programme Manager, Living and Working Environments Programme, WHO Regional Office for Europe, presented the WHO AirQ+ software tool for health risk assessment of air pollution. This tool was designed to support decision-makers in developing action to protect public health. It allows quantification of the health effects of exposure to air pollution, including estimated reduction in life expectancy. AirQ+ can be used to estimate the short-term and long-term health effects of exposure in cities, countries and regions, the degree to which a certain health effect can be attributed to selected air pollutants, and the consequences of future changes in levels of air pollution for that health effect.

Vladimir Kendrovski, Technical Officer, European Centre for Environment and Health, WHO Regional Office for Europe, presented the WHO tool for assessing the health damage and adaptation costs of climate change. This economic-analysis tool was developed to support Member States in the WHO European Region in adaptation planning related to protecting health from the negative effects of climate change. It is expected to be applied mainly by ministries responsible for this area. The tool follows the principles of accountability, transparency and evidence-based decision-making and provides step-by-step guidance on estimating: the costs associated with damage to health due to climate change; the costs of adaptation in various sectors to protect health from such damage; and the efficiency of adaptation measures.

Marco Martuzzi, Programme Manager, Environment and Health Impact Assessment programme, European Centre for Environment and Health, WHO Regional Office for Europe, introduced WHO tools for environment and health impact assessment. These tools consist of a repository of a case studies, data, training materials, and free software to help decision-makers analyse the expected health impact of environmental exposure in terms of mortality, morbidity, noxious exposure, “soft” endpoints, well-being, perceived health, and possible scenarios. The tools also provide help in communicating the risks to citizens.

Matthias Braubach, Technical Officer, Housing and Urban Health, and Environmental Equity, European Centre for Environment and Health, WHO Regional Office for Europe, gave an overview of the WHO publication, “Urban green spaces: a brief for action” (2017).  With the aim of supporting urban policy-makers and practitioners, the brief translates the key findings of a review of research evidence and practical case studies on urban-green-space interventions into implications for practice. It presents lessons learnt, and highlights aspects to consider when designing urban green spaces to maximize social and health benefits.  It also provides information about the relevance and benefits of urban green spaces, general considerations on planning and design, the importance of ensuring stakeholder collaboration and community engagement, and lessons learnt in relation to monitoring and evaluation and the prevention of potential challenges and conflicts.