The United Nations Conference “Environment and Development” in 1992, in Rio de Janeiro, recognised the intimate interaction between environmental quality and human health. This important relationship was one of the main themes discussed at the conference. In Agenda 21 of the Rio Conference, the programs for achieving sustainable development are foreseen, and the first principle of the Rio Declaration claims that in order to achieve sustainable development, attention is to be focused on the right to healthy and full-value life in harmony with nature. The latest United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012, in Rio de Janeiro which is known as Rio+20 – is a historic opportunity to define pathways to a safer, more equitable, cleaner, greener and more prosperous world for all. The Conference focused on two themes:
14 countries had:
Agree to cooperate to develop and implement national environmental health action plans (NEHAPs), or equivalent plans, that aim to put sustainable environment and health at the centre of development, and that will result in sustainability and improvements in environmental quality, and enhancement of public health, and ensure the health of the future generations in the region;
Agree to work for the development and implementation of mechanisms to enable more effective sharing of information between the health and environment sectors and other sectors through the Environmental Health Country Profiles (EHCP) and Environmental Health Data Sheets (EHDS);
Environmental protection and public health goals are in general replenishing each other. Close collaboration between these two sectors is crucial for effective environmental health management. Environmental Health is the branch of public health that is concerned with all aspects of the natural and built environment that may affect human health. The term environmental health, as defined by WHO, addresses all the physical, chemical, and biological factors external to a person, and all the related factors impacting behaviours. It encompasses the assessment and control of those environmental factors that can potentially affect health. It is targeted towards preventing disease and creating health-supportive environments. This definition excludes behaviour not related to environment, as well as behaviour related to the social and cultural environment, and genetics.
Human activities are changing the composition of Earth’s atmosphere and are contributing to climate change. Climate change is a significant and emerging threat to public health and changes the way we must look at protecting vulnerable populations. Climate variability and change cause death and disease through natural disasters, such as heat waves, floods, and droughts. In addition, many important diseases are highly sensitive to changing temperatures and precipitation. These include common vector-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue; as well as other major killers such as malnutrition and diarrhoea. Climate change already contributes to the global burden of disease, and this contribution is expected to grow in the future. Integrated efforts by all relevant stakeholders should be undertaken to address this emerging issue that influences environmental health.
To address the major environmental health problems and needs for action, many countries in the world have decided to prepare and implement National Environmental Health Action Plan (NEHAP). NEHAP presents strategies on how to improve environmental health within the country and defines the roles and responsibilities of various stakeholders.
Experiences in Europe prove to be good examples in NEHAP preparation. At Helsinki Conference in 1994, all Member States of WHO European Region have decided to develop National Environmental Health Action Plans (NEHAPs) reflecting country-specific problems and needs. While developing NEHAPs it is necessary to collaborate closely with all relevant stakeholders involved in environmental health.In this region, the First Ministerial Regional Forum on Environment and Health in South East and East Asian Countries held in Bangkok in August 2007 agreed that member countries should prepare and regularly update NEHAP. The Second Ministerial Meeting of the Regional Forum on Environment and Health in Southeast and East Asian countries on 15 July 2010, in Jeju, Republic of Korea recognized the need to achieve the goal by ensuring clean air, safe and adequate water, environmentally sound treatment and safe disposal of waste, safe management of chemical substances, adequate response and adaptation to climate change, efficient and effective actions in environmental health emergencies and assessment of health impacts of these and other environmental hazards.
In the Third Ministerial Regional Forum on Environment and Health in South East and East Asian Countries held in Kuala Lumpur in September 2013, all member countries agreed to the Kuala Lumpur Declaration on Environment and Health.
Environmental health issues are complex and cut across sectors and agencies, requiring coordination and cooperation among them. Government agencies on their own have developed and implemented environmental health-related sectors and programs, which if not properly done will have an impact on human health. Examples of those sectors are water supply, drainage and irrigation, sewerage, transportation, food production, solid waste management and hazardous waste management.
Improving environmental health in Malaysia requires all stakeholders and affected groups to recognise their common aspirations, develop common goals and work to strengthen their communication to forge partnerships on common actions. This national framework on environmental health will provide the cornerstone of the government’s approach towards sustainable development, socio-economic development, protection of the environment, and promotion and protection of human health.