Experts: UN report on NCD skips enviromental factors

A section of medical experts are claiming that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has left out environment risk factors in its report on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD), released in the beginning of June. Time To Deliver is a comprehensive study on the burden of NCDs, policies that have worked and action needed for prevention. The report was released by an independent high-level commission.

Cancers, kidney ailments, stroke, heart disease, Alzheimer’s are among the NCD that claim lives globally. According to an article in
The Lancet
on June 28, this globally important report has no mention of environmentally toxic elements like arsenic, copper, lead, cadmium and mercury, which pose major public health concerns. It also states that the report only touches upon outdoor air pollution, even though nearly 5.5 million people die prematurely every year due to household and outdoor air pollution.

Speaking toThe Hindu, Dr. Rajiv Chowdhury, who co-authored the article, said, “The report is a set of recommendations for member states to help them accelerate progress to achieve sustainable development goals target of reducing NCDs. However, not emphasising on environmental risk factors may mean a potential lack of socio-political support for promoting appropriate legislation to regulate water, food and air quality.”

Dr. Chowdhury, an associate professor in global health at the University of Cambridge, feels the report would have benefited from an explicit recognition of the importance of environmental risk factors. This, he said, would go beyond the roles of conventional behavioural risk factors like tobacco and alcohol use, physical inactivity and unhealthy diets.

Dr. Sneha Limaye, a physician and air pollution scientist who heads the department of clinical research at the Pune-based Chest Research Foundation, said, “Environmental pollution definitely contributes to NCD burden. Deaths due to non-smoking Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and severe asthma are common, and the trigger is environmental pollution.”

She added that indoor pollution, mainly due to use of
for cooking, affects a considerable number of Indians. “Thus, environmental risk factors are crucial in NCD.”

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