Geneva, March 7: More than 1 in 4 deaths of children under 5 years of age are attributable to unhealthy environments. Every year, environmental risks such as indoor and outdoor air pollution, second-hand smoke, unsafe water, lack of sanitation, and inadequate hygiene take the lives of 1.7 million children under 5 years, say two new World Health Organisation (WHO) reports.The report reveals that a large portion of the most common causes of death among children aged 1 month to 5 years – diarrhea, malaria and pneumonia are preventable by interventions known to reduce environmental risks, such as access to safe water and clean cooking fuels.
"A polluted environment is a deadly one particularly for young children," says Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General. "Their developing organs and immune systems, and smaller bodies and airways make them especially vulnerable to dirty air and water."
Harmful exposures can start in the mother’s womb and increase the risk of premature birth. Additionally, when infants and pre-schoolers are exposed to indoor and outdoor air pollution and second-hand smoke they have an increased risk of pneumonia in childhood, and a lifelong increased risk of chronic respiratory diseases, such as asthma. Exposure to air pollution may also increase their lifelong risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer.
"A polluted environment results in a heavy toll on the health of our children," says Dr Maria Neira, WHO Director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health. "Investing in the removal of environmental risks to health, such as improving water quality or using cleaner fuels, will result in massive health benefits."
Top 5 causes of death in children under 5 years linked to the environment: