- Approximately 12.6 million deaths -- about one in every four deaths -- throughout the world was affected by unhealthy living or working environments in 2012, according to a WHO report released Monday.
- Environmental factors like air, water, and soil pollution as well as chemical exposure, climate change, and ultraviolet radiation caused non-communicable diseases, including strokes and cancers, that composed the largest share (nearly two-thirds) of environment-related deaths with a total of 8.2 million. Air pollution included exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke.
- WHO says at least 6.6 million deaths among the most affected age groups -- children under 5 and adults aged 50 to 75 -- could be prevented yearly with improved environmental management.
"The main message emerging from this new comprehensive global assessment is that premature death and disease can be prevented through healthier environments – and to a significant degree," the report stated.
In the Americas, environment-related diseases caused 847,000 deaths each year. The majority of these deaths were attributed to cardiovascular diseases, including stroke -- 2.5 million deaths annually -- and ischemic heart disease with 2.3 million deaths annually.
Deaths from infectious diseases like malaria and diarrhoea declined over the past decade due to improved water and sanition, better access to immunization, insecticide-treated mosquito nets, and medicines, the report found.
“A healthy environment underpins a healthy population,” WHO Director General Margaret Chan said in a prepared statement. “If countries do not take actions to make environments where people live and work healthy, millions will continue to become ill and die too young.”
Despite population health initiatives, a myriad of recent outbreaks, including those of the Ebola and Zika viruses, have drawn attention to just how ill-equiped the country is to adequately control and address diseases that have related environmental factors. Last month, the WHO declared the Zika virus was a worldwide health emergency.
In Wisconsin, a relatively new outbreak of deadly bloodstream infections has killed 15 people and sickened 33 people, STAT reported.
WHO Director for the Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health Maria Neira said, “There’s an urgent need for investment in strategies to reduce environmental risks in our cities, homes and workplaces."
“Such investments can significantly reduce the rising worldwide burden of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, injuries and cancers, and lead to immediate savings in healthcare costs,” Neira said.
WHO suggested several measures that could help countries address the trend of environment-related diseases and deaths, which include using clean technologies and fuels for domestic cooking, heating, and lighting as well as promoting hand washing.
In May, WHO will introduce a road map at the World Health Assembly "for an enhanced global response by the health sector aimed at reducing the adverse health effects of air pollution," according to a press release.