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Unhealthy environments cause nearly one-third of all death and disease in developing countries, according to a report released on Friday (16 June) by the World Health Organization.

The report, a review of literature and surveys from over 100 experts, shows that Africans are most vulnerable to death, illness and disability caused by unsafe drinking water, poor hygiene, and other environmental factors.

In West Africa and parts of North Africa 350-500 deaths per 100,000 people are caused by environmental factors, says the report.

Latin America, in contrast, has a profile resembling that of the United States and Europe, with 100–150 deaths per 100,000 people caused by such factors.

Children under five are particularly vulnerable. Better environmental management could prevent over one-third of infant disease worldwide.

Almost all cases of diarrhea (94 per cent) are attributable to environmental factors, says the report.

It also says infections of the lower respiratory tract could be cut by 42 per cent in developing countries by improving indoor and outdoor air quality, for example by using cleaner household fuels. And 42 per cent of malaria cases are due to environmental factors that could be altered.

Maria Neira, director of the World Health Organization's Department for Public Health and Environment, says the report demonstrates that public health and the general environment would benefit from "a series of straightforward coordinated investments".

"We call on ministries of health, environment and other partners to work together to ensure that these environmental and public health gains become a reality," she says.

The report is entitled 'Preventing disease through healthy environments'.

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