World Health Day was recognized this year on April 7th with the theme “Shape The Future Of Life: Healthy Environments For Children.” To Commemorate the day, Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi A. Annan issued a message in which he stated that “healthy children are crucial to sustainable development. ”
“A child’s world,” Annan continues, “is centred around the home, the school and the local community. These should be places where children can play, thrive and develop, and where they are protected from disease. But in reality, these are often places where children — particularly children in poverty — face multiple threats to their health. Common risks include unsafe drinking water, air pollution, poor housing, lack of hygiene and sanitation, as well as inadequate waste disposal.”
Children are especially vulnerable to environmental threats, says Annan, because their “capacity to absorb health hazards is still developing, and thus they are more susceptible to the effects of toxic chemicals and to germs as well as other pollutants. ” Additionally, notes Annan, children are exposed to higher levels of contaminants because they consume more water, food and air per pound of body weight than do adults, and also because they “possess more natural curiosity but less knowledge and experience.”
Annan wants people to ensure that children can live in safe and contaminant free environments, which he says will not only save many young lives, but will also have a positive impact on economic development by keeping more children in school which will increase the overall skill base that societies need to ensure economic growth.
The task Annan urges people to take up, is to “build on the momentum generated by the Healthy Environments for Children Alliance” of 2002, a task which begins with the recognition that “children are our future — and that a future of sustainable development begins with safeguarding the health of every child.”
(Kofi Annan’s message http://www.who.int/world-health-day/2003/press/sgannan/en/)
Annan’s sentiments are echoed in the address of Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director-General of the World Health Organization, who adds a number of frightening facts and statistics. For example:
“¢ Every year over 5 million children ages 0 to 14 die from diseases directly related to their environments. They die of diarrhoea, respiratory illnesses, malaria and other vector-borne diseases, injuries, and other environmental threats in and around their homes.
“¢ Unsafe water, poor hygiene and sanitation, air pollution, including from dirty household fuels used for cooking and heating, tobacco smoke, hazardous chemicals and other environmental threats affect the health of children disproportionately.
However, Brundtland notes, “the deaths and overall ill-health can be prevented. We know what to do. We have developed strategies to combat these environmental risks to children’s health. They need to be implemented on a global and national scale, and at the household and community level.”
The onus of carrying out this implementation is on us. Brundtland urges “everyone to look around and think about what they can do to help so that every child grows up in a healthy home, school and community. And then, take action. The future development of our children depends on our action today.”
(Brundtland’s message http://www.who.int/world-health-day/2003/press/dgbrundtlandstat/en/).
These risks do not only exist in third world countries — many of them effect the health of children here, and it is up to us to make our environments safer for our children, and all people.