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The 68th World Health Assembly (WHA) took place between 18 and 26 May in Geneva, where key stakeholders met to discuss among other things, the health impact of air pollution, the West Africa Ebola outbreak, the health and humanitarian crisis in Nepal following the recent earthquake, environmental contaminants and the importance of health at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in December 2015. As part of the conclusions, delegates adopted a resolution to deal with the health impacts of air pollution entitled: “Health and the environment: addressing the health impact of air pollution”.

The World Health Assembly (WHA), the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) governing body, held its 68th plenary in Geneva where many topics were discussed, among them air pollution. Delegates at the WHA adopted a resolution to address the health impacts of air pollution, which is the world’s biggest single environmental health risk.

The WHO states that every year 4.3 million deaths result from exposure to indoor air pollution and 3.7 million deaths are attributed to outdoor air pollution. Dr. Maria Neira, WHO Director for Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health, said that, taking into consideration the current situation, member states had recently made a commitment to address in a coordinated way the biggest environmental current risk for health – air pollution.

The resolution urges member states to:

  • Make more effort to identify, address and prevent health impacts of air pollution. The proposed strategy is based on enabling health systems and authorities to play a leading role in raising awareness of air pollution’s impacts, saving lives and reducing health care costs that could be achieved by reducing pollution and pollution exposure.
  • Build strong cooperation across sectors and include health concerns into all air pollution related policies at the national, regional and local level.
  • Create air quality monitoring systems and registries to increase surveillance for all illnesses related to air pollution, promote clean cooking, heating and lighting technologies, etc.
  • Increase the international exchange of scientific data, expertise and technologies in the area of air pollution.

The WHA resolution defines measures not only for member states but also for the WHO Secretariat. Therefore, the WHO has committed to strengthen its capacities to support member states in taking action on air pollution considering the presented proposals. This support includes building capacity to implement “WHO air quality guidelines” and “WHO indoor air quality guidelines”, conducting cost-benefit assessment on mitigation measures and advancing research into the effects of air pollution on health.

Furthermore, the WHO proposed that, next year during the 69th WHA, a road map for an enhanced global response by the health sector would be presented.

Dr. Carlos Dora, WHO Coordinator, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health, stated that the resolution issues a strong call to the health sector so that it can play a key role in addressing the health impacts of air pollution, which is a major cause of heart disease, pneumonia and cancers.

The adoption of the resolution “Health and the environment: addressing the health impact of air pollution” is a first step of the process, which needs the commitment of member states, Health Ministers, health professionals and other stakeholders to reduce the health impacts of air pollution by prevention, cooperation and increasing the capacities of all actors involved.

Full coverage of the 68th WHA can be found here.