25 March 2003


NEW YORK, 24 March (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the message of Secretary-General Kofi Annan on World Health Day, which is observed 7 April:

Healthy children are crucial to sustainable development. That is why this year's World Health Day carries the theme "Shape the Future of Life: Healthy Environment for Children".

A child’s world is centred around the home, the school and the local community. These should be places where children can play, thrive and develop, and where they are protected from disease. But in reality, these are often places where children -- particularly children in poverty -- face multiple threats to their health. Common risks include unsafe drinking water, air pollution, poor housing, lack of hygiene and sanitation, as well as inadequate waste disposal.

Children are more vulnerable than adults to environmental hazards. Their capacity to absorb health hazards is still developing, and thus, they are more susceptible to the effects of toxic chemicals and to germs, as well as other pollutants. They are also more exposed to such risks, because they consume more food, air and water than adults do in proportion to their body weight -- and because they possess more natural curiosity, but less knowledge and experience.

The only sustainable response is to make sure that children can live, learn and play in safe environments. This will not only save many lives; it will have positive consequences for economic development. It will prevent many children from being taken out of school due to chronic disease, and thus, help society as a whole build the skill-base it needs for economic growth.

That means we must build on the momentum generated by the Healthy Environments for Children Alliance, inaugurated at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg to mobilize knowledge, political will and resources for the reduction of environmental risks to children’s health.

And it means recognizing that children are our future -- and that a future of sustainable development begins with safeguarding the health of every child. On this World Health Day, let us rededicate ourselves to that mission.

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