In 2012, the World Health Organisation estimated nearly 12.6 million global deaths due to living or working in an unhealthy environment. About one in four deaths are due to diseases and injuries caused by environmental risk factors like air, water and soil pollution, chemical exposures, climate change, and UV radiation. All these environmental risk factors together contribute to more than 100 diseases and injuries which fall in both Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD) and communicable diseases. Air pollution is the biggest killer with around 8.2 million deaths due to respiratory illnesses, lung cancer, stroke, and heart disease. WHO (2016) estimates additional deaths of 250000 annually between 2030 and 2050 attributed to climate change related issues like extreme heat, natural disasters, and changing patterns of infection. Tuberculosis, Malaria, Hepatitis, Cholera, and Diarrehea form the biggest killer among communicable diseases.
India is on a transition wherein 55% of mortality is attributed to non-communicable diseases, and 33% is attributed to infectious diseases. Interstate variations in the presence of infectious diseases highly vary in India. Also sociological and economic factors determine the intensity of exposure to environmental risk factors and access to health system services. Illnesses impact the well being of the people, increases the economic burden of family, affects public resources, and weaken the societies. Therefore, health is an important aspect that cannot be neglected when discussing sustainable development. It is precisely for this reason that one of the Sustainable Development Goals is Health and SDG 3 mainly focuses on the eradication of diseases, strengthening of the health system and addressing emerging health issues.
The biggest takeaway from all the existing research is that health needs to be considered in all policies. In order to eradicate diseases due to environmental risk factors, it is crucial to understand and address the environmental risk factors from a multidimensional perspective. Similarly, strengthening the health system to cater to the needs of environmental health is also essential. For this, the local, state and national governments should be equipped with resources, knowledge, and professionals working in the area. Understanding and addressing environmental determinants of health from a multidisciplinary perspective is the need of the hour.
In this context the Centre for Environmental Health was established in partnership with Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) with support from Tata Sons and Tata Consultancy Services as a platform to identify and explore various environmental health risk factors and associated social determinants so that the impact of environmental risk factors could be minimised. The Centre for Environmental health is a pioneering effort to carry out evidence-informed policy research on environmental health issues in India and provide policy suggestions for better intervention in the society.
Key objectives of the Centre for Environmental Health
Conduct policy-relevant research across a range of environmental health issues in India
Build institutional capacity in participatory action research for environmental health
Establish programs for education and training in environmental health for public health practitioners, community groups, and local volunteers
Cultivate a network of partners and collaborators to engage in multi-sectoral, cross-cultural action research, basic research and policy advocacy
Promote evidence-informed policy-making for environmental health
Engage public and health professionals through media and health communication activities