Children & Environment
A child’s world centres around the home, school and the local community. These should be healthy places where children can thrive, protected from disease.
But in reality, these places are often so unhealthy that they underlie the majority of deaths and a huge burden of disease among children in the developing world. More than 5 million children from 0 to 14 years old die every year from diseases linked to the environments in which they live, learn and play - their home, their school, their community.
Degraded environments are the breeding ground for germs, worms and disease-bearing insects. Half a billion children worldwide are debilitated by diseases such as malaria, schistosomiasis, dengue fever and cholera.
Many environmental threats to children’s health are aggravated by persistent poverty, conflicts, natural and man-made disasters, and social inequity. The children worst affected are those in the developing world but there are many children in the more developed, even the richest, countries, who are also at risk.
Children have a unique vulnerability. As they grow and develop, there are “windows of susceptibility”: periods when their organs and systems may be particularly sensitive to the effect of certain environmental threats.
Some environmental diseases result in long-term disability; others cause more immediate and short-term effects. Some may result in conditions such as blindness, crippling disease and mental retardation. Those children who are chronically sick or disabled cannot regularly attend school and so their social and intellectual development suffers.