The World Health Organisation (WHO) report has revealed that more than one in four deaths of children under five-years are attributable to unhealthy environments.
According to the first WHO report dubbed,” Inheriting a Sustainable World Atlas on Children’s Health and the Environment” stated that a large portion of the most common causes of death among children aged one month to five- years are diarrhoea, malaria and pneumonia which are preventable by interventions known to reduce environmental risks, such as access to safe water and clean cooking fuels.
Dr Margaret Chan, the WHO Director-General, said: “A polluted environment is a deadly one particularly for young children." adding that this is because their developing organs and immune systems, and smaller bodies and airways, make them especially vulnerable to dirty air and water.
She said harmful exposures can start in the mother’s womb and increase the risk of premature birth. Additionally, when infants and preschoolers 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.
The WHO report findings correspond with those of researchers from Makerere University Medical School which confirmed that in Uganda, pneumonia which is attributed to the unhealthy environment is a leading cause of death among children under five-years of age.
“Pneumonia deaths could be averted if caretakers recognised the danger signs and sought appropriate treatment promptly,” the finding from researchers at Makerere University Medical School read in part.
The research finding are derived from interviewing 278 caretakers in Mukono District Uganda, whose under-five children had suffered from probable pneumonia two weeks prior to the evaluation. Through structured questionnaires they assessed caretaker’s knowledge about danger signs among under-five children with pneumonia and the actions taken to manage probable pneumonia using descriptive statistics. They also conducted in-depth interviews with caretakers and community health workers.
Top 5 causes of death in children under five-years linked to the environment
A companion report, Don’t pollute my future! The impact of the environment on children’s health, provides a comprehensive overview of the environment’s impact on children’s health, illustrating the scale of the challenge. Every year:
570 000 children under 5 years die from respiratory infections, such as pneumonia, attributable to indoor and outdoor air pollution, and second-hand smoke.
361 000 children under 5 years die due to diarrhoea, as a result of poor access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene.
270 000 children die during their first month of life from conditions, including prematurity, which could be prevented through access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene in health facilities as well as reducing air pollution.
200 000 deaths of children under 5 years from malaria could be prevented through environmental actions, such as reducing breeding sites of mosquitoes or covering drinking-water storage.
200 000 children under 5 years die from unintentional injuries attributable to the environment, such as poisoning, falls, and drowning.