|LONDON - Environmental hazards such as pollution, unsafe water, poor sanitation, lead poisoning and injuries are the cause of one third of child and adolescent deaths in the European region, health experts said on Friday.|
Pollution from burning coal and wood indoors without ventilation is a leading killer of children in the central Asian republics and Turkey.
Unsafe water and sanitation is a major cause of young deaths in eastern European nations, while injuries, mainly from road traffic accidents, top the list across the European region, according to a report by the World Health Organization (WHO).
\"One third of all deaths in children and adolescents in the European region can be attributed to environmental factors,\" said Dr Giorgio Tamburlini, an author of the report from the Institute of Child Health in Trieste, Italy.
The WHO report says that 100,000 deaths and 6 million years of healthy life are lost each year in children and adolescents from birth to 19 years of age in 52 countries in western and eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.
\"This is the first assessment of the health effects in children and adolescents of environmental factors in the European region,\" Tamburlini told a news conference to launch the report which is published in the Lancet medical journal.
It will form the basis of a plan to be discussed by European officials in Budapest on June 23-25 at the Fourth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health and provide a model for similar reports elsewhere in the world.
CHILDREN MORE VULNERABLE
Children\'s growing bodies are more vulnerable to environmental factors. They are also more exposed than adults to hazards because they live and play closer to the ground and have less control over their environment.
The patterns and causes of death vary but the report highlights priorities to cut exposure to pollutants, improve sanitation and water supplies and to prevent injuries.
Injury caused by traffic accidents, falls, drownings poisonings or violence, war or suicide killed more than 75,000 youngsters throughout the European region in 2001.
About 23,000 children up to four years old died from pneumonia and other respiratory illnesses caused by outdoor and indoor air pollution.
Poor water and sanitation which causes diarrhea killed more than 13,000 children up to 14 years old and lead in paint, pipes and gasoline resulted in mild mental retardation in more than 156,000 years of healthy life lost.
\"Interventions that are able to reduce the exposure of children to these risk factors, ranging from outdoor and indoor pollution to lack of water sanitation, to unsafe housing and transport, are going to produce substantial benefits in terms of disease, disability and death,\" said Tamburlini
The report identifies priority areas which differ between regions and emphasizes the importance of targeting specific populations such as children who are poor, exploited or living on the street because they are at the highest risk.
Tamburlini said the study also highlights the need to produce more databases to develop country-by-country pictures to identify priorities to help children and adolescents.
Story by Patricia Reaney
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE