HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Strategy to Engage the Health Sector in Controlling Adverse effects of Chemicals: Comments Due January 17, 2011

The international community  continues to seek ways to improve the sound management of chemicals in order to protect human health. One of the pressing issues is to effectively engage the health care sector – doctors, caregivers, government health ministries and regulators and similar bodies – in strategies to prevent exposure to dangerous chemicals that can harm humans and the environment. The United Nations agency overseeing this work has issued a draft strategy on ways to engage the health sector, and comments are due January 17, 2011. The Report acknowledges that there have been improvements in chemical management over recent years, but unsound practices remain a major concern. Unintentional poisonings kill an estimated 355,000 people each year, and in developing countries (where most of the deaths occur), the deaths are often caused by excessive exposure to or inappropriate use of toxic chemicals, including pesticides. 


One of the international goals adopted at 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development is to address the effects of chemicals on human health and the environment. The goal, known as the “2020 Goal,” is that “by 2020, chemicals will be produced and used in ways that minimize significant adverse effects on human health and the environment.” The goal was agreed upon by the international community and was articulated in the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation.

In order to devise plans and take steps to achieve the 2020 Goal, the United Nations established a global policy framework called the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management  (SAICM) and a Directorate within the U.N. Environmental Programme to oversee its implementation. The SAICM contains objectives grouped under five themes: risk reduction, knowledge and information, governance, capacity-building and technical cooperation, and illegal international traffic. There is a good background in the SAICM’s 2008 Bulletin #1.  

The SAICM has issued a report for public comment, which sets out a strategy to engage the health sector in achieving sound chemicals management practices.  The health sector is the part of the economy dealing with health issues, and consists of public and private health care deliverers (medical doctors, nurses, other health professionals), ministries of health and health standard-setting agencies, health agencies such as the World Health Organisation, and similar bodies and associations. Comments on the Provisional Draft Strategy are due on January 17, 2010.

The draft Report identifies many challenges to getting widespread engagement of the health sector in chemical management. An example is the substantial number of chemicals management frameworks and agreements, many implemented on a piecemeal basis, making it difficult to keep abreast of activities. The report calls for actions in six areas: raising awareness, building health sector networks, empowering SAICM focal points, creating healthy health-care settings, strengthening professional training and development, and increasing joint actions between sectors. MM

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