81 of 1,000 children are at risk of dying in Africa before age five as compared to 11 of 1,000 in Europe and an average of 7 per 1,000 in high-income countries generally. Africa has the highest under-five mortality rate (WHO, 2015). This is why a 58-year life expectancy rate for Africa (WHO 2013) is attributed to the influx of diseases, with 25% of world’s disease burden resting on the continent and 28% of disease burden in the region attributed to the environment (WHO Africa 2015). Over 600 million people die each year of environment-related factors and diseases such as lower respiratory infections, diarrhea, and injuries, to mention a few. (Africa Progress Panel 2015, Global Goals, African Realities: Building a Sustainable Future for All).
Although sustenance of human life has always been attributed to the environment, there are increasing evidences on the relationship between the effects of the environment and man’s activities on human health. Globally, about one quarter of deaths and diseases are now attributed to environmental factors resulting from physical, chemical, social and biological environment.
Sustainable health relates to enhancing and managing human health in an environmentally, economically, and socially responsible conduct. Moreover, chapter 6 of the United Nation’s Agenda 21, which gave birth to sustainable development as the core assignment of the UN, stresses the need to protect and promote human health and reduce health risks caused by environmental pollution and hazards. Sustainable health cannot be attained outside of a sustainable environment.
Addressing sustainable health through a sustainable environment requires respecting and improving environmental constituents of physical, biological, and social conditions. However, Africa has the highest rate of environment-related health challenges resulting from several factors which if not addressed, would result in many dire consequences.
Pollution (Air, Noise, Water, Soil)
Any harmful substance released into the environment is a source of pollution. The most prominent receivers of pollution are the air, water, and the soil.
Air pollution killed around 7million people worldwide in 2012. It often results from the introduction of poisonous substances into the air, which in turn changes or modifies the atmosphere. Almost all human activities introduce a form of interference in the air; from household to industrial forms. Both indoor and outdoor pollutions are dangerous to the health. However, as most continents are more plagued by outdoor pollution, Africa is hugely plagued by both outdoor and indoor pollution, which makes the region more prone to health risks resulting from these. Over 600million Africans lack access to clean energy which forces them into sourcing for alternative but harmful sources of household energy such as fuel/stove wood, and charcoal. Furthermore, low power generation compels the use of fuel and diesel generators as well as local lamps, which only inject dangerous smoke into body systems. In addition, most African cities lack strict laws on vehicle emissions which exposes a larger percentage of their populations to health risks delivered from vehicle exhausts even as most industries openly pollute the air through their industrial activities.
Consequently, over 600 million Africans die per year due to indoor pollution while over 176million die per year due to outdoor pollution. Air pollution results in lower respiratory infections which are recorded as the second highest causes of deaths in Africa (WHO). Besides, not only does air pollution affect health directly but the release of carbon into the air is also capable of changing air temperatures. If there is a continued release of carbon dioxide into the air, Africa risks having higher sicknesses and death rates as warmer air temperatures and altered rainfall pattern could bring to fore new diseases as have already been experienced from the recent outbreaks of diseases. Already, Nigeria, one of Africa’s most developed nations is recorded to have about 96% of its population exposed to air pollution, which is far above WHO comfortable levels.
Noise Pollution is often overlooked but it accounts for most mental health conditions; deafness, and sleep disorders. In fast growing African cities, majority of the citizens live in urban and industrial areas, where they are exposed to risks of noise pollution.
Water pollution is a major cause of food and water borne illnesses. Diarrhea which tops the total environmental burden of diseases in Africa is a water borne disease, so also are most diseases a result of unsafe water. Unfortunately, many African countries lack access to adequate safe drinking water in addition to low sanitation levels. The continent has the largest number of water stressed regions in the world.
Soil Pollution which is an alteration in a natural soil condition is one of the top causes of diseases, especially in Africa. Its most prominent results; soil erosion, flood, and droughts, are the major causes of waterborne diseases, communicable diseases, water shortage, and blockage of drains and sewages which make up a part of the 60% of Africa’s total environmental burden. Furthermore, soil pollution affects both food production and safety.
To be continued next week…