Shape the Future of Life Healthy Environments for Children
World Health Day 2003
Interview with Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director-General, World Health Organization (WHO)
What is the significance of this years theme for World Health Day ? This years World Health Day is dedicated to Shape the Future of Life: Healthy Environments for Children. In September 2002, I launched the Healthy Environments for Children Initiative along with partners in the UN system, governments and NGOs. We are now working with different groups around the world to develop a vibrant, global alliance which will be capable of mobilizing local support and intervening to make childrens lives healthier where they live, learn and play.
What are the problems or biggest threats to childrens health that arise from the environment ? Every year, over 5 million children from 0 14 years die from diseases and conditions related to their environments. These diseases include diarrhoea, respiratory conditions, malaria as well as other vector-borne diseases and unintentional injuries. These can all be prevented. We know what to do. Strategies have been developed to combat these threats to childrens health they need to be implemented on a global and national scale.
What are the environmental risks children face in their home, school, and community ? The risks to children in their everyday environments are numerous. But there are six groups of environmentally-related health hazards that must be tackled as priority issues household water security, lack of hygiene and poor sanitation, air pollution (particularly indoor air pollution), vector-borne diseases such as malaria, chemical hazards (lead and unsafe use of pesticides for example), and unintentional injuries. These risks exacerbate the effects of economic underdevelopment and they cause the bulk of environment-related deaths and disease among children.
Healthy Environments for
Fact and Figures
Around 2 million children under five
die each year from acute respiratory
Infections. Indoor air pollution from
biomass-burning is an important risk
Diarrhoea is the second biggest childkiller
in the world; 1.3 million children
die annually from diarrhoeal diseases,
associated closely with inadequate
access to safe drinking water, and poor
sanitation and hygiene.
Chemicals such as lead, mercury, and
some pesticides (when used unsafely)
and pollutants can impact a child’s
health and development.
Each year, millions of children worldwide
are debilitated by diseases such
as malaria, schistosomiasis, dengue
fever and cholera.
How will these changes make a difference ? By working together we can more effectively address the needs that exist in many communities and countries to develop and implement effective programmes and policies. Although there are many activities underway around the world, these could benefit from better coordination, streamlining of efforts, bringing together fragmented or isolated initiatives, and eliminating unnecessary overlap.
Why do you want the world to know about Healthy Environments for Children ? Each individual event on and around World Health Day is a key part of the broader effort to promote Healthy Environments for Children. Such events will serve as a springboard for raising awareness, stimulating debate, and building the momentum for national movements that tackle health dangers in the places where children live, learn and play. Every child has the right to grow up in a healthy home, school and community. The future development of our children and of their world depends on their enjoying good health now.
So what happens after World Health Day ? The emphasis on Healthy Environments for Children will be stronger than ever. We are building a broad- based alliance that draws on the unique and complementary strengths of many different parties. The Healthy Environments for Children Alliance envisions a movement involving various government sectors (at local and national levels), civil society groups and NGOs, the private sector and the UN family, as well as foundations, research and academic groups, and the children and their families themselves. Then they can mobilize the will and the tools necessary to create healthy environments for children by:
- Strengthening the evidence-base;
- Producing sound guidelines and strategies for action;
- Launching education and public outreach campaigns;
- Advocating and lobbying for action.
For more information on World Health Day visit
World Health Day, on 7 April 2003.