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[BEIJING] China launched its first national environmental health action plan to enable research in the environment and health sectors to be combined more effectively.

The Ministry of Health and the State Environmental Protection Administration announced the plan at the third National Environment Health Forum in Beijing this week (21 November).

The plan addresses the need to establish nationwide surveillance networks for environment-related health problems, and for different government agencies to share information. It aims to form a legal, executive and technical framework for environmental health by 2015.

According to the plan, China will conduct national surveys to obtain accurate information on the nature and extent of environmental pollution and will instigate the necessary basic and applied research into its possible effects on health.

The results of this research could be made available to the international community.

"China will soon get funds from the WHO and the Global Environment Facility and will do joint research with foreign scientists on the health impacts of climate change in China," says Jin Yinlong, director of the National Institute for Environmental Health, Chinese Centre for Disease Control.

Tang Fei, an environmental health scientist at the Wuhan-based Huazhong University of Science and Technology, says he hopes the plan will enable the two different sectors to work together to produce more effective research.

Environment-related health has become a serious issue for China in recent years. Zhao Tonggang, director of the Health Supervision Bureau at the Ministry of Health, said at the forum that more than 300 million Chinese people could not get access to clean drinking water. He quoted World Bank data saying that almost one billion Chinese people live in air that does not meet the WHO standard.

Critics say China has focused too much on its market-driven economic growth and that environment-related health consequences have been neglected. As a result, there is little information available about the impact of the deteriorating environment on the health of the population.

"China hasn't conducted any national investigation on environment-related health issues since the 1990s, and Chinese scientists normally had great difficulties to get government funds to do environment-related health research," says Jin Yinlong.