Report shows action on environment has potential to prevent disease

Experts meet in Vienna to review progress on health and environment

13 June 2007

A new WHO report points to real potential for disease prevention through action on the environment. Country profiles of the environmental burden of disease presents the latest evidence on environmental threats to health. Based on this study, the first ever country-by-country data for all WHO Member States, including the 53 countries in the WHO European Region, will be presented to representatives from ministries of health and the environment as they gather in Vienna, Austria, on 13–15 June 2007.

The new assessment identifies the disease burden that is preventable by improvements to selected environmental causes (such as air pollution, occupational factors, ultraviolet radiation and the built environment) of many of the diseases, including diarrhoea, respiratory infections, vectorborne diseases, cancers, neurodevelopmental disorders, cardiovascular diseases, asthma and injuries, that lead to disability and death. The report indicates that well-tested environmental health interventions could reduce total deaths in the countries of the WHO European Region by almost 20%.

The report ranks countries by the size of the portion of death and disability due to the environment. (See link to table above.) The range of disability-adjusted years of life lost (DALYs) varies up to fourfold across the WHO European Region. The lowest levels of risk are found in northern and western European countries, while high risk levels are reported for some countries of eastern Europe. This may be due to a combination of traditional (such as water) and modern (such as air pollution and chemicals) environmental risk factors.

“The significant variations in the burden of disease between countries point to the potential preventable nature of many of these threats and offer us hope and a challenge for the future”, says Dr Marc Danzon, WHO Regional Director for Europe. “The meeting in Vienna is an important step in taking on this challenge. It confirms how important action by health systems, in partnership with the environmental and other sectors, is for the health of all of Europe’s people, but mainly the younger generation.”

The disease burden attributable to the environment falls especially heavily on children. As one of the most vulnerable parts of our society, children are particularly sensitive to environmental threats. The proportion of deaths from environmental exposure increases to 34% in children and adolescents under 19 years of age. This is why children and their future is the theme for environment and health action in Europe

For the first time, in Vienna, countries have chosen to analyse their experiences and share the lessons learned in the last three years in the area of health and environment. During the meeting, environmental health experts will check on the progress countries have made towards fulfilling their pledges on safe water, injuries and physical activity, as well as ensuring clean air and chemical-free environments for their children.

Reported measures countries have taken, which will be discussed in Vienna, range from ensuring that all child-care institutions and schools are provided with adequate safe water and basic sanitation (Romania); reducing car traffic around schools and motivating students to walk and cycle to school (Austria); and establishing pollen filters in homes, kindergartens and schools for children with asthma and allergies (Denmark); to improving the control and surveillance of the production and use of children’s toys and games (Russian Federation).

A satellite forum, led by nongovernmental organizations, will be organized to share innovative and concrete activities that have made a difference in improving children’s environmental health across the European Region. Best practice awards for outstanding action in children’s environment and health will be announced. A parallel youth conference will involve young delegates from the 53 European countries. They will present their ideas to the official delegates and propose ways of sustaining youth participation in the decision-making processes related to children’s health and environment.

The WHO Regional Office for Europe is organizing the meeting in collaboration with the host country, Austria, while the European Environment and Health Committee – a coalition of governments, the European Commission, intergovernmental organizations and nongovernmental organizations – served as the steering committee.

For more information contact:


Dr Lucianne Licari
Regional Adviser for Environment,
Health Coordination and Partnerships
WHO Regional Office for Europe
Scherfigsvej 8, DK-2100
Copenhagen Ø, Denmark
Tel.: +45 39 17 12 89.
Fax: +45 39 17 18 18


Ms Liuba Negru
Press and Media Relations Officer
WHO Regional Office for Europe
Scherfigsvej 8, DK-2100
Copenhagen Ø, Denmark
Tel.: +45 39 17 13 44.
Fax: +45 39 17 18 80

Ms Cristiana Salvi
Technical Officer, Communication and Advocacy
Special Programme on Health and Environment
WHO Regional Office for Europe
Via Francesco Crispi 10, I-00187
Rome, Italy
Tel.: +39 06 4877543.
Mobile: +39 348 0192305
Fax: +39 06 4877599