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Program and Abstracts: The Seventeenth Conference of the International Society for Environmental Epidemiology (ISEE): Abstracts

PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT AND HEALTH OF CHILDREN IN FOUR DEVELOPING COUNTRIES

Seager, J R.*†; Harpham, T*‡; Huttly, S; Abramsky, T

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ISEE-199

Introduction:

Debates about child poverty in developing countries are frequently dominated by economic and social issues with little attention being given to environmental issues. This is despite child health and welfare being very sensitive to environmental factors. In addition, national data on progress towards the Millennium Development Goals fail to differentiate between subgroups, e.g. the poorest of the poor and those who are slightly better off. The Young Lives International Study of Childhood Poverty is committed to a comprehensive view of child poverty, including the quality of the physical environment, and investigates conditions for poor and less poor households in urban and rural settings.

Methods:

This paper presents baseline data from a longitudinal study of 12,000 children in 4 developing countries. The data covers approximately 2000 1-year-olds and 1000 8-year-olds in each of Ethiopia, India (Andhra Pradesh), Peru and Viet Nam. The study describes environmental conditions for these children and some impacts on child health including acute respiratory infections and diarrhoeal disease. The study also includes children’s perceptions of their environment.

Results:

The results highlight inequalities in access to basic services, both within and between countries. Access to water and sanitation, widely regarded as one of the most important child health interventions, is still inadequate and, as expected, is associated with high rates of diarrhoea. In urban areas, between 10 and 24% of households (1-year-olds) had no toilet facility. The situation is much worse for the poorest households, with 36–60% of the poorest of the poor having no sanitation. Water supplies were also inadequate with up to 12% of the urban sample using unprotected water sources (well, spring or pond).

Despite the poor environmental conditions, children reported that water quality and air quality was “good” (66–95% and 58–90%, respectively).

Conclusion:

The selected countries show substantial variation in environmental health risk factors, yet there are common lessons to be drawn by child poverty researchers and activists. As 2015 approaches, tracking The Millennium Development Goals relating to children will become more important and it is critical that children’s physical environment continues to receive sufficient attention.

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