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

Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health

The role of the Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health (PHE) within the overall work of WHO 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 and social threats to health. PHE develops and promotes preventive policies and interventions based on an understanding and an in-depth scientific analysis of the evidence base for environmental and social determinants of human health.

How significant is the impact of environment on health?

Globally, an estimated 24% of the burden of disease and 23% of all deaths can be attributed to environmental factors.

How significant is the impact of social inequality on health?

Fifty percent of inequalities in the distribution within populations of the more important noncommunicable diseases, especially cardiovascular disease and lung cancer, can be accounted for by social inequalities in risk factors.

The Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health influences policy by:

  • Assessing and managing risks (such as from outdoor and indoor air pollution, chemicals, unsafe water, lack of sanitation, ionizing and non-ionizing radiation) and formulating evidence-based norms and guidance on major environmental and social hazards to health.
  • Creating guidance, tools and initiatives to facilitate the development and implementation of policies that promote human health in priority sectors.

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