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Vital Strategies and UNICEF Win the WHO Western Pacific Innovation Challenge for Their Work on Children’s Environmental Health Indicators

Global health organization Vital Strategies and UNICEF were named winners of the World Health Organization Western Pacific Innovation Challenge: Innovation for the Future of Public Health, in the category of Healthy Environments and Populations, for their work on Children’s Environmental Health Indicators.

Globally, environmental threats are responsible for one-quarter of all deaths, a figure that is expected to rise as climate change magnifies the world’s most serious environmental risks. Air pollution, insufficient water and sanitation, chemicals, and biological agents expose people to risk factors in their homes, workplaces, and communities, with social inequities amplifying their impacts.

“Children bear a disproportionate burden from environmental degradation and climate change,” said Daniel Kass, Senior Vice President for Environmental, Climate, and Urban Health at Vital Strategies. “By adopting, tracking, and sharing children’s environmental health indicators, governments can identify climate and environmental health threats to children and current risk factors, respond with critical resources, and enact policies that support the flourishing of children’s health in their countries. We are proud of the recognition by the World Health Organization’s Innovation Challenge to support this groundbreaking work.”

Every year more than 1.7 million deaths in children under 5 are attributable to the environment. Reducing environmental risks could prevent one in four child deaths. While environmental health risk factors are undoubtedly major causes of childhood illnesses and deaths in Asia, country-specific and subnational data is required to better understand the problem and create approaches to improve children’s health. By building an integrated tracking system for risks, exposures, health outcomes, and actions related to children’s environmental health, countries can better prioritize investments, monitor trends, evaluate initiatives, and engage the public in understanding and acting on environmental threats to well-being.

“Each country’s government, population, and environmental threats are vastly different. Still, children’s environmental health indicators are highly adaptable to various socioeconomic, environmental, and political contexts and can be replicated by any county relatively inexpensively and rapidly,” said Seonmi Choi, Climate and Environment Advisor, UNICEF. It entails the creative use of data to develop indicators that can be tailored to a country or region’s context in collaboration with multiple stakeholders. We hope that countries will welcome the development of these indicators as a tool to address the environmental threats to children, particularly those experiencing a high vulnerability to climate and environmental risks.”

The work that Vital Strategies and UNICEF have done unites existing national and subnational data and integrates the data with global evidence to create children’s environmental health indicators. This innovation enables tracking, assessment, and reporting on the status and impacts of the climate and the environment on children’s health as well as the evaluation of environmental interventions and policies. A technical brief, “Promoting Healthy Environments for Children by Using Indicators,” developed in partnership with UNICEF, was released to support governments, universities, and civil society in developing tracking systems for children’s environmental health indicators in their own countries.

Vital Strategies piloted the children’s environmental health indicators with UNICEF support in China and Myanmar to track and identify climate and environmental health threats to children and to enable environmental interventions and policy evaluation.

The WHO Western Pacific Innovation Challenge finds tailored health solutions for the region. It enables WHO to identify and select innovators with a deep understanding of the health needs of people in the Western Pacific region and build an ecosystem of innovators with sustainable, cost-effective, and inclusive solutions. The category “Healthy Environments and Populations” focuses on work designed to promote healthier environments, better food choices, safer settings, and inclusive health services, with a goal of giving every newborn a healthy start and enabling everyone to live a long life.

“We are grateful to the World Health Organization for this recognition and look forward to scaling up the children’s environmental health indicators tracking program in the Western Pacific region,” said Dr. Siddhi Aryal, Regional Director, Asia-Pacific at Vital Strategies. “Millions of children will continue to be in danger from environmental degradation and climate change if no further action is taken. Adopting these indicators will help governments strengthen their national environmental risk management capacities to support linked public health and environmental policies. Inaction is not a choice.”

WHO will be hosting the 2022 Innovation Forum in the Western Pacific Region: Scaling for Impact on April 28-29, 2022. The event is designed to examine the theory of change and the necessary precursors for lifesaving innovations and provide Member States with solutions that can drive large-scale public health benefits. To register, please click here.

Download the technical brief: Promoting Healthy Environments for Children by Using Indicators

About Vital Strategies 

Vital Strategies is a global health organization that believes every person should be protected by a strong and equitable public health system. We work with governments and civil society in 73 countries to design and implement evidence-based strategies that tackle their most pressing public health problems. Our goal is to see governments adopt promising interventions at scale as rapidly as possible.

To find out more, visit www.vitalstrategies.org or Twitter @VitalStrat.

Media Contacts 

Gurpreet K Bhatia, gbhatia@vitalstrategies.org 

Ally Davis, adavis@vitalstrategies.org