Health Organization Leaders Launch Global Campaign on Air Pollution

Unmask My City (UMC) is global initiative by doctors, nurses, public health practitioners, and allied healthcare professionals dedicated to improving air quality and reducing emissions in our cities.

May 2nd -- Launching today on World Asthma Day, Unmask My City, a global initiative in 10 cities on five continents, aims to promote practical solutions and create tangible policy changes that drive a clear, downward global trend in urban air pollution by 2030.

This will result in significant reductions in illnesses and deaths as well as greenhouse gas emissions. Through Unmask My City, health professionals are becoming a visible force supporting or driving healthy air campaigns in their countries protecting the environment and health of people.

Health Care Without Harm’s partners in India, Brazil, and South Africa have joined Unmask My City to call for locally-tailored solutions, such as establishing health protections in marginalized communities in Chennai, India; ensuring that health is considered in the permitting process for power plants in Emalahleni, South Africa; and mobilizing health care organizations to engage in the air pollution debate in São Paulo, Brazil. 

This global initiative is coordinated by the Global Climate and Health Alliance together with the Health and Environment Alliance, Health Care Without Harm, the US Climate and Health Alliance, and the UK Health Alliance for Climate Change.

Air pollution is responsible for one in nine deaths worldwide, and touches everyone -- 92% of the human race live in places that do not meet World Health Organization air quality guidelines (1). This growing cloud of pollution has catapulted air pollution towards the top of the list of avoidable risk factors for ill health, with an unacceptably high burden of disease.

“From a public health perspective, wearing masks to protect against air pollution is a solution of last resort -- our goal should be prevention first and foremost,” said Jennifer Wang, Healthy Energy Initiative Coordinator for Health Care Without Harm. “To address the root causes of air pollution, we need decisive action from policymakers and cooperation across sectors, including the health sector. By working together to tackle air pollution, we're saving lives, saving money, and preserving our planet.”

Health care organizations in Brazil are increasingly taking on leadership in combating climate change among other essential environmental public health issues. “UMC campaign is mobilizing Brazilian members of the Global Green and Healthy Hospitals Network for the improvement of air quality in the city of São Paulo,” said Vital Ribeiro from HCWH’s strategic partner, Projeto Hospitais Saudáveis. “We believe the health sector can make a real difference in the fight against air pollution and climate change, and contribute to significantly improve the quality of life of 12 million people living in São Paulo.” 

“Air pollution is robbing citizens of their right to a healthy life. It is imperative that the public health community take charge and engage with the government to frame suitable policies to protect public health and environment,” Shweta Narayan, Healthy Energy Initiative – India.

These are just some examples of locally-defined approaches from Health Care Without Harm’s partners involved in Unmask My City. As part of this global health community, we’re incredibly energized and committed to continue to promote solutions to air pollution, to protect our health and our climate.

In São Paulo, air pollution, caused mainly by the burning of fuel from transportation, is responsible for about 4,000 deaths a year in the city. Even so, the WHO (World Health Organization) air quality standards have not been adopted by local authorities. The campaign “Unmask My City” in São Paulo mobilizes health professionals for the best air quality, aiming for significant health improvement, and the reduction of carbon emissions which drive climate change. 

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Notes

1. World Health Organization. WHO | WHO releases country estimates on air pollution exposure and health impact [Internet]. WHO. 2016 [cited 2017 Apr 10]. Available here.