Public health, environmental and social determinants of health (PHE)

The Department of Public Health and Environment

WHO's Public Health and Environment Department role is to promote a healthier environment, intensify primary prevention and influence public policies in all sectors so as to address the root causes of environmental threats to health.

How significant is the impact of environment on health?

An estimated 24% of the global burden of disease and 23% of all deaths can be attributed to environmental factors.

The Department of Public Health and Environment influences policy by:

  • Assessing and managing risks (such as outdoor and indoor air pollution, chemicals, unsafe water, lack of sanitation, ionizing and non-ionizing radiation, to mention a few) and formulating evidence-based norms and guidance on major environmental hazards to health.
  • Creating guidance, tools and initiatives to facilitate healthy policy development and implementation in priority sectors.

By focusing on reducing environmental risk factors, nearly a quarter of the global burden of disease can be prevented. Some examples include the promotion of safe household water storage, better hygiene measures, improved management of toxic substances in the home and workplace. At the same time, actions by sectors such as energy, transport, agriculture, and industry are required urgently, in cooperation with the health sector, to address the root environmental causes of health.

PHE focuses on developing and advocating effective preventive policies and interventions based on improved scientific understanding of the environmental determinants of human health.