Many aspects of lives are influenced by the environment, and environmental factors initiate, promote, sustain, or stimulate many diseases. For this reason, the interactions of people with their environment are an important component of public health. Environmental and health are directly connected, in that, the impacts of people on the environment results in the impacts of the environment on them (us). These health effects are; specific damage to health that an environmental hazard can cause to an individual person. Often the same hazard can cause a range of different effects and of different severity. Presently the rate of infections and diseases is on the rise due degradation and contamination of our natural resources. Activities that have led to health issues include;
Poor treatment and disposal of liquid wastes, which leads to poor hygiene and sanitation, which in turn have resulted to numerous outbreaks of waterborne diseases like the recent cholera outbreaks reported in parts of Kenya and Tanzania. Also drinking contaminated water has led to cases of kidney, liver failure and certain cancers to be on the rise.
Air pollution has also adversely affected our health. A person inhales approximately 30 m3 (or 35 pounds) of air per day, roughly 6 times more than the food and drink consumed per day, so exposure to air pollutants which is continuous and usually involuntary results in everybody being susceptible to the effects of pollution. Pollutants include dust, aerosols, oxides of carbon and nitrogen, fumes, smoke among others. All these have resulted in increases in respiratory diseases such as; asthma, bronchitis and lung cancer, and especially in children, but adults are susceptible too.
Due to deforestation and vegetation clearance we are currently facing the issue of global warming and climate change, and these have far reaching consequences on human health. Global warming has positive effects on parasites resulting in their increase in number which is in turn detrimental to human health, example recent outbreaks in malaria and other diseases. The parasites may affect us indirectly by attacking crops and resulting in food insecurity and hence susceptibility of infections.
Other environmental issues that affect human health are; acidic deposition, depletion of the ozone layer which has resulted in increased cases of skin cancer and other cancers. However, human health is not the only one affected by degradation; wildlife and birds are known to have been affected too and these are significant in maintaining an ecological balance.
Measures that can be taken:
To effectively deal with issues of environment and health, a multidisciplinary approach is essential. Some methods that can reduce pollution are:
Substitution or limitation: involves either eliminating a pollutant by substituting materials or methods that do not produce it or restricting the amounts of key chemical elements available for pollutant production. One application of the approach is the use of biodiesel fuel in diesel-powered vehicles. Because it contains less sulphur, its use automatically leads to reduced emissions of this contaminant, reduced emissions of heavy hydrocarbons, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide.
Reduction in quantity produced: This approach includes improving the combustion efficiency of furnaces and adding exhaust and emission controls to motor vehicles.
Process or equipment change: use of fully enclosed systems for processes that generate vapours, floating covers on tanks that store volatile fluids, and electric motors in- stead of gasoline engines.
Air-cleaning technologies: Common examples are the applications of filters, electrostatic precipitators, scrubbers, adsorbers, or some combination of these to remove pollutants from airborne exhaust systems.
Administrative, economic, and regulatory approaches: include programs that incorporate the provision of economic incentives to promote mass transportation and carpooling and encourage land use management to ensure that designated areas are restricted to residential, commercial, or industrial use.
Ensuring the set drinking water standards are met: assures that drinking water is aesthetically pleasing in terms of temperature, colour, taste, and odour. Also ensures it is free of contamination.
Proper water purification and waste water treatment.
Government and relevant environmental authorities should ensure a proper environmental impact assessment is done before a project is executed. This is in order to know and understand the potential effects on both people and ecosystem and put effective measures in place.
And of course planting a tree, trees play the biggest role in air purification and all for free, and discouraging logging and use of wood fuel/firewood.
The interdependence between health and environment can be therefore summarized in five key points:
1.Health depends on resources.
2.Good health depends on accessibility to sustainable resources.
3.Bad health results from inaccessibility to sustainable resources or exposure to a hazard or pollutants.
4.Sustainable resources as well as hazards exist in the environment.
5.Therefore, quality of our health depends on the environment.
Good health is only possible where resources are available to meet human needs and where the living and working environment is protected from life-threatening and health threatening pollutants, pathogens and physical hazards.