Health on Earth: A healthy planet benefits everyone – World Health Day 2022

On this World Health Day, WHO/Europe calls on everyone to come together and recognize the importance of our planet, for the sake of our health and that of generations to come.

More than 13 million deaths worldwide, including 1.4 million in Europe each year, are caused by preventable environmental factors, WHO estimates. This figure takes into account the accelerating climate crisis, which is the greatest health threat facing humanity, but also includes air pollution, inadequate sanitation and drinking water, exposure to chemicals and radiation, and hazardous urban environments.

Our planet, our health

Our environment provides the basic necessities of life: clean air and water, safe food and shelter. Nature is both the origin of infectious and vector-borne diseases and the source of medicines, including many antibiotics. Human impact on the environment increases the risk of emerging infectious diseases in humans, over 60% of which are of animal origin, mainly wildlife. Reduced biodiversity can also increase disease transmission.

Human activities such as deforestation, wildlife trade and consumption, and international travel are believed to have led to the emergence of COVID-19 and facilitated its global spread. Post-COVID-19 recovery plans, and more specifically plans to reduce the risk of future outbreaks, must therefore go further upstream than early detection and control of outbreaks. They must also reduce our impact on the environment to reduce risk at its source. The concept of One Health recognizes this interconnectedness between all people, animals, plants and their common environment on planet Earth.

Healthier environments promote healthier people

“Improving our natural and built environments, where we live, work, learn and play, can bring immediate and long-term benefits to our health and well-being. This World Health Day is an opportunity to think about how we can create healthier cities and communities, with more green and blue spaces that promote active leisure, provide the opportunity to relax and promote mental health, said Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director, Director for Europe.

“We also need to reduce car dependency, improve public transport and increase walking and cycling safety,” he added.

In many places, the reduction in economic and transportation activities caused by measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 has resulted in the short term in cleaner air, reduced carbon emissions, less noise and greater safety for cyclists and pedestrians. It is proof that we have the power to improve our environment and that we can build back better as we recover from the pandemic.

Air pollution is the single most important environmental risk factor for human health. The WHO estimates that around 7 million premature deaths each year are due to the effects of air pollution, and more than 500,000 of these deaths occur in the WHO European Region.

This makes air pollution, along with smoking, harmful alcohol consumption, unhealthy diets and lack of physical activity, a major risk factor for non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as cardiovascular diseases, cancers, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes. Noncommunicable diseases cause 90% of all deaths in the European Region, but their risk factors can be prevented or controlled through a number of highly effective and inexpensive policies and interventions.

Some air pollutants are short-lived climate pollutants, which are linked to both negative health effects and short-term global warming. Thus, almost all efforts to improve air quality will also strengthen climate action, and almost all climate change mitigation efforts will in turn improve air quality, with immediate health benefits. which greatly amplifies the return on investment.

Tobacco use has far-reaching environmental consequences beyond the devastation of tobacco-caused disease. Tobacco growing destroys trees and damages the soil, and tobacco manufacturing produces toxic waste. Its use pollutes the air and surfaces inside our homes. Cigarette butts and other tobacco waste poison marine life, contaminate beaches and waterways, and litter our urban living spaces.

Local and international policies and actions

We can do a lot to improve our environment and our health by taking action close to home and emphasizing the role of local governments. For more than 30 years, the WHO European Healthy Cities Network and the Regions for Health Network have been pioneering drivers of change, creating healthier urban environments that support the well-being of people and communities. who use them.

In a complex world of multiple levels of government, many sectors working towards similar goals, and many stakeholders involved in the pursuit of health and wellbeing, cities and regions are uniquely placed to provide leadership. They show that global problems can be solved locally.

The Pan-European Commission on Health and Sustainable Development recently recommended the adoption of a One Health policy recognizing the interdependence of human, animal and environmental health. The Commission’s report calls on policy makers to learn from those tackling environmental issues to put societies on the right path for future generations.

So let’s not just imagine a #HealthierTomorrow – let’s make it happen.

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