Every year, an estimated half a million women die of causes related to pregnancy and childbirth and their deaths leave some one million children without mothers. Virtually all are in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The risk of a mother of dying during pregnancy or childbirth in a poor village or urban settlement can be 1,000 times or more than of a mother from a wealthy household living in a healthy environment with good quality health services and ante-natal and post-natal care.
Expectant mothers are particularly vulnerable to certain environmental hazards. The reproductive system is particularly sensitive to adverse environmental conditions. Every step of the reproductive process can be disrupted by external environmental agents which may lead to an increased rise in abortions, birth defects, foetal growth retardation and perinatal death.
Healthy babies require clean air, clean water and clean surroundings. These are the guarantees that we should provide for these defenceless members of our society. Many children are exposed from the prenatal phase to a barrage of infectious agents (bacteria, parasites and viruses) and toxic contaminants from polluted air and water, deficient public services and poor sanitation. Taken together they exact an enormous toll on child and maternal health.
Many of the environmental threats to child health and survival caused by air pollution and chemical contamination of food and water can be considered as "new diseases of civilization", but they are preventable.
The task of confronting these challenges to our environment cannot be pursued by any one nation alone but must be the cooperative efforts of all Governments and civil society, realizing that success is for our common good - indeed for our survival.
To confront these challenges, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has undertaken activities on risk assessment and management of selected chemicals including those that disrupt the normal hormone-mediated, regulatory mechanisms in the body (endocrine disrupting chemicals).
Trade in extremely hazardous pesticides is currently monitored through the voluntary Prior Informed Consent (PIC) Procedure in which 154 countries are participating. UNEP is hopeful that the legally binding PIC convention will provide the world with a vital first line of defence in managing extremely dangerous chemicals, including pesticides.
UNEP is promoting the development of recommendations for global action on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) which include, among others, endocrine disrupting chemicals. The Convention on POPs is expected to be finalized later this year. Through its conventions and instruments, UNEP seeks to limit exposure to hazardous chemicals and pollutants.
It is our hope that as we implement these policies and programmes, future generations will reap the benefits from the steps we take now to correct the abuses of the past.
For more information:
Mr. H. N. B. Gopalan
Human Health and Well-Being Unit
P.O. Box 30552 Nairobi, Kenya
Email: Hiremagalur.Gopalan @unep.org
UNEP News Release 1998/17