Zoltán Massay-Kosubek

Yesterday, I gave support to a new initiative, dedicating a week to public health in Europe. Today this initiative shifts its focus on healthy environment so I am exploring why air pollution does matter for me, as a public health advocate.

As public health advocates, participating in today’s actions on healthy environment and air pollution, we are all committed to work on air pollution to reduce its detrimental impact on human health. Our ultimate mission is to achieve policy change to improve air quality and at the end of the day, people’s everyday lives.

In our daily work, we are used to talk about transport, air pollution, healthcare implications, costs for national budgets, implications for city measures, taxation and urban planning, rightly so but in the meantime we should never forget that there are ordinary people behind the numbers. But such initiatives can help us not only to address the detrimental impact of air pollution but to give it a human face.

Breathing is the basic function of human health which affects everyone – we all breathe air to live. The scientific literature is clear about how bad air pollution is. It is well established by studies that air pollution causes various respiratory, cardiovascular and chronic diseases, including asthma. We also know from science that air pollution has the greatest effects on the most vulnerable: the elderly and especially children.

A new publication has been published in the the world’s leading independent general medical journal called ‘The Lancet’ which made a link between Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emission and asthma cases especially in urban areas. This is very critical, as a large part of Europe’s population live in cities and are exposed to dangerously high levels of air pollution. Pollution in urban areas is higher than in rural areas, living close to roads increases concentrations of pollutants.

And this is the point we want to make today: sometimes, scientific data and studies are not enough. Sometimes we have to be aware what it really means for ordinary people.

This is why all of us working on air pollution have to engage on the occasion European Public Health Week! We have to feel the urgency to speak about it, and to listen to individual cases such as the case of Rosamund and Ella to clearly understand what air pollution really means. We want to bring that additional human perspective which is often missing in the debates on transport-related air pollution and about European air pollution limits.

There are many things we individually and collectively can do about air pollution and I hope after this initiative we will be even more determined to act. I would like to highlight just one important issue: we should not forget that this year is also a European election year and as we will see Europe does a lot for our health, including also tackling air pollution. One of the personal actions we can definitely do is to participate in the upcoming elections as Europe does matter for health.

Finally, I would like to add that focusing on air pollution during the EU Public Health Week means a great deal to me. This is a unique case where professional and personal life meet: I am acting not only as a passionate public health advocate who is committed to do something about air pollution but also a father who would like to ensure his children can breathe clean air. Because at the end of the day this is about what is important for us and what we care about. And if it is a choice between children and polluting cars, I have no doubts where my choice will be.

About the first European Public Health Week

Initiated by the European Public Health Association (EUPHA), co-organised by the European Commission and supported by the WHO Regional Office for Europe, between 13 and 17 May 2019, the first time more than 70 events across at least 25 countries are celebrating healthy populations and raise awareness about public health. Everyone is invited to organise and join these local, national and regional activities of the first ever European Public Health Week (EUPHW).

Healthy environments make healthy people.”

Promotion of healthy cities, safe roads and clean air and water is the theme of day two, dedicated to ‘Healthy environment.

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