Harmful environments

Bidonville, Marseille © Olivier Papegnies

Harmful environments

Guides and themes
In both the North and the South, health risks related to harmful environments have increased dramatically in recent decades. According to the World Health Organization, one quarter of pathologies worldwide are related to avoidable environmental causes.

The environment and living conditions are key determinants of health and can reveal or increase social and geographical inequalities. Very often, these harmful living conditions are combined with the toxicity inherent in certain risky occupations, presenting an even greater danger to personal health.

These people, who are often the most vulnerable and bound by the constraints of survival settings due to their precarious situation and/or because they are members of groups subject to discrimination, find it difficult to mitigate the environmental risks to which they are exposed. Their situation forces them to live and work in conditions which entail their constant and repeated exposure to a range of pollutants, damaging their health and having an impact on their resilience and ability to act. From a clinical point of view, the low visibility of the intoxication caused, certain symptoms of which may only be revealed some time later, delays awareness of the risks and acts as an obstacle preventing any individual or collective action to obtain protection against these risks.

In light of these observations, Médecins du Monde – Doctors of the World (MdM) has decided to make harmful environments one of its five key areas for priority action.