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International Conference On Environmental Health Begins In Abu Dhabi

A four-day international conference on Environmental Health bringing together more than 100 scholars, researchers, experts began in Abu Dhabi on Monday. The conference aims to contribute to the global debate and effort to discuss issues relating to the linkages of environment and health at the global, regional and national levels. The Conference, which is organized by Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) and the World Health Organization’s Regional Centre for Environmental Health Activities (WHO/CEHA), was inaugurated by H.E. Mohammad Al Bowardi, Secretary General of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council and Managing Director of EAD. H.E Al Bowardi said in his opening speech that there is a strong link between the environment and diseases, which constitutes an enormous burden on human resources and the national economy. “Improving health and environmental conditions is essential to achieve Sustainable Development. In the UAE, protecting society, and specifically our children from environmental risks, has been and always will be at the forefront of our priorities. In line with these policies, Abu Dhabi Government has launched an ambitious project to identify environmental risks and to determine the impact of each on health and economic development and to propose policies, programmes and action plans through a national strategy on environmental health,” said H.E Al Bowardi. He added that this strategy will focus on specific priorities for the coming years. It will review plans to expand the ambient air quality monitoring network and carry out an epidemiology study on the diseases, including effects of indoor air quality and the effects of current lifestyles. The project is based on local and national partnerships between environmental and health organizations as well as universities. It is also based on an international partnership with the WHO, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and others. Dr. Amir Johri, WHO/CEHA, Jordan said WHO is pleased to see that the Government of UAE has recognized the essential link between environment and health, and has paved the way for the development of the National Strategy for Environmental Health for the UAE. A recent WHO global study on preventing disease through healthy environments stated that almost a quarter (24%) of the global burden of disease and one-third of the burden in developing countries are caused by modifiable environmental risks. This study also revealed that environmental risk factors have an impact on 85 diseases out of the 102 diseases reported regularly by WHO. Environmental factors such as air pollution, unsafe water and sanitation, improper solid and hazardous waste management, unhygienic food, etc attribute to major diseases, such as respiratory illnesses, diarrhea, malaria, unintentional injuries, and so on. Various cancers and cardiovascular diseases are also associated with the environmental contamination. “About one quarter of the global burden of disease could be reduced through available environmental health interventions and strategies. The main objective of these strategies would be to promote a healthier environment, intensify primary prevention, and influence public policies in all sectors so as to address the root causes of environmental threats to health,” Dr. Johri said. Jacqueline MacDonald, PhD, UNC assistant professor of environmental sciences and engineering give a presentation on environmental health risks and UAE National Strategy for Environmental Health. MacDonald, who will lead the research team of the international specialists in environmental sciences and public health from UNC, RAND Corporation, and United Arab Emirates University, said “The government leaders in the U.A.E. are being proactive and forward-thinking by analyzing the environment now, before serious health impacts emerge.” “We’re hoping to find ways to help them minimize damage to the health of people in the U.A.E. and protect the environment.” “The research team is working with key organizations and citizens to collect data about the nation’s current environmental health risks. Based on scientific assessments that will determine the distribution of environmental hazards, the team will help United Arab Emirates leaders set priorities and develop policies for mitigating the health risks to people in the country” she added. The Conference scientific sessions began with a presentation on Health Aspects of Desalinated Water, delivered by Joseph A. Cotruvo, Consultant on water, environment and public health. He said in his presentation that desalinated water is manufactured water that normally receives chemical additions for stabilization, and often these chemicals include calcium and possibly magnesium from limestone. Nutritionally sufficient intake and uptake of minerals including calcium and magnesium is essential to maintain good bone and cardiovascular health. Drinking water can be a fortuitous and useful supplement to complement dietary sources especially for those who do not consume adequate dietary minerals. Ph. Alfred Dufour, a research microbiologist in the US Environmental Protection Agency delivered a presentation on Coastal Water Quality and Health Effects Associated with Recreation and Shellfish Consumption. He said coastal waters are widely used for recreation and for commercial exploitation. These waters are also used as a sink for receiving domestic and industrial waste waters. Wastes discharged into coastal waters frequently contain pathogenic microorganisms and hazardous materials that pose a risk of illness for humans that are exposed to these contaminated waters or food harvested from the waters. Health Aspects of Bottled and Other Non-piped Water was than highlighted by Professor Mark D. Sobsey, Professor of Environmental Health Microbiology at School of Public Health, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. He reviewed various aspects of bottled and non-piped drinking water, with a special focus on vulnerabilities or other considerations that could pose public health risks related to water quality. Chemical, radiological and microbiological risks were also reviewed, with special consideration given to the role of the water container to both protect water from contamination and as a source or facilitator of water contamination itself. Dr. Joseph G. Jacangelo, Professor from Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg, School of Public Health, delivered a presentation on Reuse of Wastewater: Contaminants of Concern, Potential Human Exposure and Treatment. He said with the increasing scarcity of freshwater resources and increased water demand, the sustainability of water supply is becoming jeopardized worldwide. Consequently, the reuse of wastewater is becoming employed on a more widespread basis for balancing water deficiency. The reuse of wastewater leads to an important issue: the water quality being produced. Therefore, development and application of appropriate treatment technologies to meet the requirements of water quality are critical to the success of reusing wastewater. On the second day of the Conference, speakers will present technical papers on air quality and health, healthy homes and communities, water quality, hazardous and solid waste management and institutional capacity in environmental monitoring.

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