Health and environment ministers in Africa have resolved to build a strategic alliance to reduce environmental threats to human health and well-being.
Following the conclusion of an historic gathering in Gabon, the ministers signed and adopted the Libreville Declaration which commits governments to take measures to stimulate the necessary policy, institutional and investment changes that should be effected to optimize synergies between health, environment and other relevant sectors.
“The signing of this landmark declaration," said Dr Luis G. Sambo, Regional Director of WHO Regional Office for Africa, "is the first step towards saving the lives of millions of people from the harmful effects of changes in the environment. We will work together to promote strategic alliances between health and environment. I am delighted that we have managed to secure political commitment to catalyse institutional changes needed to improve the health and well-being of communities in the region.”
After deliberations on a range of issues, delegates were convinced that the root causes of global environmental degradation are embedded in social and economic problems such as pervasive poverty, unsustainable production and consumption patterns, inequity of distribution of wealth and the debt burden. These result in malaria, tuberculosis, cholera, typhoid, dracunculiasis, helminthiasis, schizosomiasis, asthma, bronchitis and heart diseases that are taking their toll on millions of people living in the region.
"The Libreville Declaration is a milestone for Africa. Nowhere is the human health impact of environmental threats more urgent," said Dr Maria Neira, WHO's Director for Department of Public Health and Environment. “The challenge now is to ensure Africa moves onto the global environmental health agenda."
Delegates highlighted the need to address health, environment and economic development issues in an interrelated manner to generate new synergies in poverty reduction and social equity. Ministers expressed their willingness to actively seek partnerships with civil society, including the private sector, and to seek their expertise in effecting change to improve environmental conditions in Africa.
Angélique Ngoma, Minister of Health and Public Hygiene of Gabon, said, "This conference will go down in the annals of Africa as the first to generate a synergy of political action and complementariness between health and environment for sustainable development."
The declaration urges Member States, among other things, to:
1. update their national, sub-regional and regional frameworks in order to address more effectively the interlinkages between health and environment through integration of these links in policies, strategies and national development plans;
2. ensure integration of the agreed objectives in the areas of health and environment in national poverty reduction strategies;
3. implement priority intersectoral programmes at all levels in health and environment, aimed at accelerating the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals;
4. build national and regional capacities to address the linkages between environment and health through the establishment and strengthening of health and environment institutions.
Expressing his appreciation at the outcomes of this landmark inter-ministerial conference, UNEP's Regional Director for Africa , Mounkaila Goumandakoye said: “For too long both health and environment have sought to cope with the downstream consequences of policies regarding environment, health and economic development that have been designed in parallel, not in concert. In valuing the inextricable links between human health and the sustainability of ecosystems along with the goods and services they provide, this historic conference in Africa reasserts that the work of the environment sector is an issue of human well-being and that together health and environment in acting proactively are critical development partners in the achievement of global and national development objectives.”
The four-day event held in Libreville, Gabon, was attended by hundreds of delegates, including health ministers, environment ministers, high-level experts, academics, policy-makers, bilateral and multilateral institutions and NGOs.