World Environmental Health Day - An annual reminder for action for everyday of the year

By Dr Liz Hanna. Chair Environmental Health Working Group

Initiated by the International Federation of Environmental Health, World Environmental Health Day - is to be celebrated annually on 26 September. The 2019 theme was Climate change challenges, time for global Environmental Health to act in unison

Environmental Health is re-emerging as a core issue for public health. The World Health Organization reports that, roughly a quarter of all human disease and death in the world can be attributed to environmental factors.

To thrive, humans need ready and affordable access to clean air, clean nutritious food and clean water. Global population growth, combined with industrialization of processes of resource extraction, food production and waste generation have degraded the global environment. Precious water supplies are contaminated, and 9 out of every 10 people breath polluted air. Oceans are filling with plastics. Chemicals are ubiquitous, and through relentless burning of fossil fuels for energy, we have even interfered with the climatic systems that support ecosystems and agriculture.

Once, the earth could supply all human needs and replenish what we used. Yet by 2019, collectively, humanity had used all that the earth could sustainably generate by July 29th, known as Earth Overshoot Day, which creeps forward every year, as humanity’s demands keep growing, and we continue to generate waste.

Essentially our patterns of consumption are killing us. If everyone on the planet lived as Americans do, we would need 5 planets to support us all, 4.1 if everyone lived as the Australians do, yet only 0.7 Earths would be required if everyone consumed like the average Indian. The Japanese need 7.7 Japans to support their national consumptive patterns, the British need 4 Britains, and the Chinese need a landmass of 3.8 China’s to supply all their needs.

Destruction of the Earth’s ecosystems is a health issue, an equity issue and ultimately, a survival issue. Armed with this knowledge, humanity needs to adjust how we treat the earth that supports us. We must curb our consumption, consider our fellow humans and strive for a more just world. To ignore this plight is tantamount to marching relentlessly towards a gruesome contaminated and brutal future.

We can no longer take the environment for granted. We urge everyone, all public health practitioners to lead the transition to a more caring and mores sustainable society.

How Many Countries Do We Need GraphicHow Many Countries Do We Need GraphicHow Many Worlds Do We Need GraphicHow Many Worlds Do We Need GraphicEarth Overshoot Day GraphEarth Overshoot Day Graph

Source: The Ecological Footprint Calculator


The Role of the health sector in the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management towards the 2020 goal and beyond

Click here to read the pdf.

Environmental Policies: Anesthetic Gasses and Ethylene Oxide

During the General Assembly in May 2019, Peter Orris, member of the Environmental Health Working Group, proposed two new policies for approval. These two proposals include "Reducing Anesthetic Gasses Climate Foot Print" and "Transitioning at Safe Substitutes for Ethylene Oxide as a Medical Sterilant of Devices and Supplies in Healthcare".

"Reducing Anesthetic Gasses Climate Foot Print"climate picclimate pic

While more study is necessary, a rough estimate published by the World Bank Group finds that the healthcare sector generated 2.6 billion out of the 52 Billion metric tons of CO2e globally emitted in 2011—or 5% of global emissions. The investigators took into account the contribution generated by hospital activities, research and the production and distribution of pharmaceuticals. The analysis found that hospitals by far were the largest contributors of carbon emissions. Although the findings are worrisome, they suggest that greener health care delivery will have a large positive impact on our environment.

The policy calls that the World Federation of Public Health Associations join the professional organizations of anesthesiologists and nurse anesthetists and take action steps that include: lowering greenhouse gas anesthetics, reducing gas escape from the operating theater utilizing practical modifications of practice, and providing national public health associations information concerning this issue to permit institution based professional members to aid in this effort.

"Transitioning at Safe Substitutes for Ethylene Oxide as a Medical Sterilant of Devices and Supplies in Healthcare"eto pictureeto picture

Ethylene oxide (EtO) is a chemical used to sterilize medical equipment in hospitals, healthcare facilities, and industrial settings. It is also used to fumigate items that cannot be sterilized by steam such as spices, cosmetics, and plastic devices. While over 99 percent of industrial use of EtO is for closed reaction to less volatile, explosive, and toxic derivatives such as ethylene glycol, less than 1% is used in sterilizing processes designed to kill bacterial and other living organisms. It is estimated that 50% of medical supplies worldwide primarily composed of rubber, plastic, paper, cloth, or mixed material surgical trays are sterilized in this manner. Workers, including those in health care, engaged in these activities and the surrounding communities are exposed on a regular basis.

While not compromising patient care, the orderly substation of less hazardous substances for medical supply and device sterilization is recommended where feasible and the immediate control of releases utilizing best available technologies. This policy recommends the biomonitoring of workers, communities, different exposure recommendations, and safer substitutes to be used in the healthcare setting. The policy concludes with a number of Action Steps for WFPHA to take to regulate the sterilization of medical supplies.



Governments unprepared for the health impacts of climate change: global survey

A new report by the World Federation of Public Health Associations (WFPHA) reveals many countries are lagging in policies to protect their populations from the adverse health impacts of climate change. Respondents from 35 countries completed the global survey, which revealed more than half of respondent countries (51%) had no national plan to adequately protect the health of their citizens from climate change.

WFPHA President Mengistu Asnake said: “The health impacts of climate change is one of the most significant public health risks facing the global community. While there are some encouraging signs, this benchmark survey reveals many gaps in policy at the national level to respond. We encourage all national governments to develop national climate and health plans to ensure their citizens are not unprotected from the major health risks from climate change.” 

The WFPHA survey found both developed and developing nations lacked comprehensive national climate change action plans, however vulnerable developing nations appear to be less prepared, with 70% of respondent countries reporting that either their national climate policies did not address health or there was no national climate action plan in existence. Positive examples do exist, with case studies from US and South Korea featured in the report, which the authors say offer insights into both mitigation and adaptation strategies. The majority of respondent countries (77.1%) have no comprehensive identification of health risks of climate change projections for their citizens and 65.7% had done little towards identifying vulnerable populations and infrastructure, developing public health adaptation responses, assessing coping capacity or gaps in knowledge.

Dr Peter Orris, Co-Chair, Environmental Working Group, WFPHA said: “This survey reveals we are failing, as a global community, to tap into the benefits that climate action will bring for nations, for communities and for individual health and well-being.”

A recent Health and Climate Commission published in the international medical journal The Lancet suggests tackling climate change could be the “greatest opportunity of the 21st century” to improve health across the globe, highlighting that many strategies to respond to climate change also bring significant co-benefits for health, offering significant savings for healthcare budgets as well as increased productivity by reducing the burden of ill-health. A recent study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) found carbon reduction policies can lead to big savings on health care spending and other costs related to illness — in some cases, more than 10 times the cost of policy implementation.

The WFPHA report’s recommendations call for health protection and promotion to be a central principle in global climate policies being negotiated under the United National Framework Convention on Climate Change. It calls on all governments to develop national climate and health plans, addressing both adaptation to unavoidable warming and mitigation [to prevent further warming], and for health professional associations globally to make it a priority to raise awareness of the issue.

“The message from the global public health community is very clear,” Dr Asnake said. “We must act now to secure public health, and reap the benefits, for health budgets and the global community. Designing policies and programs at national and global level to protect people from climate change provides an immediate global health opportunity to reduce the burden of illness, while delivering a more stable climate in the longer term.”

To read the media release click here.

To read the report click here.

To read the survey results click here.

To read the latest report click here.

The WFPHA Environmental Health Work Group is chaired by Dr. Elizabeth Gayle Hanna. It aims to influence international policy on environmental health by bringing environmental health issues to the public health community and a public health approach to the environmental advocacy community. Through work with partners including WHO, UNEP, SAICM, Healthcare without Harm, World Medical Association, IPEN, Global Network For Incineration Alternatives, Toxics Link, Sustainlabour, the Pesticide Action Network, and others the Work Group focus attention on human health effects of environmental hazards and help shape global environmental health and protection policies.

The Environmental Working Group invites new Members, representatives of national public health associations, individual public health professionals, and students. Meetings will take place by phone/computer. Activities currently planned for  the next year will include policy development for WFPHA, participation in the Strategic Approach To International Chemicals Management in Health Care of UNEP, Mercury treaty negotiations and advocacy for decreased use in health care, and advocacy for improving children’s environmental health in collaboration with WHO.

For more information, please contact Dr Michael C. Azuzu and Dr Liz Hanna.


COP24 Katowice Climate Change ConferenceCOP24COP24

Dr. Peter Orris, WFPHA Environment Working Group member attended COP24 in Katowice, Poland from the 2nd of December to the 14th of December.

Held annually prior to the Climate COP meeting and this year sponsored by the World Health Organization, the Global Climate and Health Alliance, the European Committee of the Regions, and the Pro Silesia Association, serves as a key anchoring event for advancing health-focused action, engagement and collaboration to address climate change. The Summit focused on the Call to Action on Climate and Health which outlines a set of ten priority policy actions for health leadership.

Read the full report here.

COP21 The Climate Summit in Paris

As reported by diverse scientific and health research organizations (including the World Health Organization), climate change poses a central and increasing threat to the health of the world’s people in this century. However, little was known about how national governments were planning for this unprecedented public health challenge. To address this gap, the Group developed plans for an online survey of actions by national governments for completion by health non-governmental organizations from each country. This quickly brought support of the Climate and Health Alliance, Health Care Without Harm, and the Public Health Association of Australia. It was conducted during August and September 2015 by WFPHA with support from the World Medical Association and its Young Doctors Network.

National public health associations, medical associations, and other health professional organizations responded, providing information on the actions of thirty-five governments (15 developed and 20 developing nations). The respondent countries are spread across the globe, with six continents represented, and include USA, Canada, Brazil, Spain, China, Australia, Japan and the EU.

The survey revealed a lack of climate-health preparedness, with more than half of respondent countries (51%) having no national plan to protect their citizens from the health impacts of climate change in their countries. Twelve (35%) countries have yet not developed policies for long-range climate change and its impact on health and 13 (37%) countries did not have any policies for public health adaptation.

The majority of respondent countries (77.1%) have no comprehensive identification of health risks of climate change projections for their citizens and 65.7% had done little towards identifying vulnerable populations and infrastructure, developing public health adaptation responses, assessing coping capacity or gaps in knowledge. Some positive examples bucking the trend include Taiwan and Lithuania, reporting comprehensive climate change action plans with both mitigation and adaptation strategies, along with climate-health risk surveillance, and early warming systems for health risks from extreme weather.

The report was released in late November and received prominent attention during a number of health related events in Paris during the Climate Summit of 30 November to 11 December 2015. WFPHA was represented during the Paris events through leadership of the Working Group both at the Conference of the Parties itself and at many of the side events organized by several of our collaborating organizations. The Paris agreement signed on Saturday 12 December 2015 is binding and commits signatories to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius. The more ambitious 1.5 degrees Celsius goal is also named as a serious aspiration. The agreement includes a commitment to a long-term goal to bring emissions down to zero and a regular review of national commitments every five years to check progress. This review mechanism, which will start in 2018, is vital if the 2-degree target is to be reached.

WFPHA welcomed and agreed to participate with these groups beyond Paris based on three pillars of mitigation within health care provision, building resilience of health care institutions, and providing public health leadership to civic society with respect to the impact of climate change on the world emphasizing the poorest countries and communities.

The Paris Platform for Healthy Energy

The Healthy Energy Initiative is a collaborative effort with partners in eight countries to address the health impacts of energy choices. Recognizing that more than 7 million people die every year from air pollution, much of it related to fossil fuel combustion, particularly coal, the Health Energy Initiative seeks to engage the health sector in advocating for a rapid transition to clean, renewable energy.

To this end, WFPHA endorsed the Paris Platform for Healthy Energy as a way to reflect this common agenda across borders and to engage ever greater numbers of health sector actors in this advocacy.  In this way we are continuing the joint efforts begun 4 years ago when the WFPHA and the South African PHA with the WHO, World Medical Association, and others initiated these efforts at the climate summit in Durban SA.

To read the last report, click here.

Previous report

Read the previous report of the Environmental Health WG!

Other reports available:

Environment Health Working Group - Year 2016

Persistent Organic Pollutants and Human Health Report

Mercury in Dental Amalgam and Resin-Based Alternatives report

Minimata Mercury Treaty is Signed (Report to WFPHA)

The Minamata Convention on Mercury was adopted on Thursday, 10 October 2013 at 11:11 am in Kumamoto, Japan, following decades of increased awareness regarding the toxicity of mercury and mercury-related compounds. The WFPHA, pursuant to its policy Mercury pollution, participated in the intergovernmental negotiations preparing this convention as a professional Non Governmental Organization collaborating closely with the World Health Organization, Health Care Without Harm, and the International Society of Doctors for the Environment (ISDE). 

To read the report, click here.

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