UN agencies join forces to combat environmentally-related diseases in Africa

26 August 2008

A United Nations-sponsored conference that aims to tackle the environmental causes of diseases that claimed almost 2.5 million African lives each year begins in Gabon today.

In 2002 alone millions of Africans died because of unsafe water, pollution, poor sanitation, inadequate waste disposal, insufficient disease control measures and exposure to chemicals.

“African countries share common ecosystems and the impact of the environment on the health transcends national borders. Accelerated efforts are required to deal with the outbreak of diseases caused by changes in the environment,” said Regional Director of the World Health Organization (WHO) for Africa, Luis Sambo.

The WHO and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) jointly organized the First Inter-Ministerial Conference on Health and Environment in Africa, which is being hosted by the Government of Gabon, under the slogan “Health security through healthy environments.”

The four-day conference – attended by health ministers, environment ministers, policymakers, bilateral and multilateral institutions, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and high-level experts – will explore the evidence linking health with the environment.

It aims to combat environmentally-related health problems as well as obtain the institutional and investment changes necessary to reduce environmental threats to health.

“This conference is a step toward future collaborative efforts between the WHO, UNEP, and Ministries of Health and Environment to implement integrated activities that promote health and sustainable development,” stressed Dr. Sambo.

UNEP Deputy Director Angela Cropper added: “While our knowledge has been increasing about how ecosystems and species and the quality of the environment relate to human health, there is a lag in concerted policy and action to address this relationship.”

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