New WHO Asia-Pacific centre for environment and health to open in Seoul

SEOUL – A new World Health Organization (WHO) Asia-Pacific Centre for Environment and Health in the Western Pacific Region will open this year in Seoul, Republic of Korea. The agreement to open the centre was signed yesterday by WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific Shin Young-soo, Minister of Environment of the Republic of Korea Cho Myung-rae and Mayor of Seoul Park Won-soon. The centre will foster healthier and safer environments and strengthen community resilience to climate and environmental change in the WHO Western Pacific Region.

“Environmental pollution and climate change are among the greatest threats to health in our region. With the establishment of the WHO Asia-Pacific Centre for Environment and Health in the Western Pacific Region, we will be able to step up our support to countries so that they can better protect people’s health. Having the centre in Seoul will offer mutual benefits to WHO and the Government of Korea and City of Seoul,” said Shin Young-soo.

The centre is a geographically-dispersed specialised office (GDSO) established by the WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific. GDSOs are WHO offices in different locations contributing to the work of the major office that manages them. GDSOs enhance WHO’s ability to provide countries with policy advice and lead research on priority topics.

Rapid changes in the region’s physical and social environment are having a major impact on health. Known, avoidable environmental risk factors cause at least 3.5 million deaths each year and account for around a quarter of the burden of disease in the Western Pacific.

“Air pollution kills 2.2 million people in our Region every year—mostly from stroke, heart disease and lung diseases—and climate change poses a range of health threats, from deaths due to extreme high temperatures, to outbreaks of waterborne and vector-borne diseases and food insecurity. This is why the establishment of the Centre is so important for WHO’s work,” said Takeshi Kasai, Director of Programme Management for WHO in the Western Pacific Region.

The Republic of Korea and WHO have been collaborating for more than 70 years in almost all areas of public health. During this period, the Republic of Korea has evolved from an aid recipient to now being a major contributor to global health and environment work. The establishment of the centre in Seoul is a testimony to and builds on this partnership.

“The Korean government is hosting the WHO Asia-Pacific Centre for Environment and Health in the Western Pacific Region to protect the population’s health from environmental hazards such as fine dust, hazardous chemicals and climate change. The ministry of Environment will give strong support to ensure the WHO Centre contributes to improving environmental health policies in the region, like the WHO Bonn Centre has done for European countries, with the development of WHO guidelines on air quality,” said minister Cho Myung-rae.

“I have worked with WHO for many years and long been committed to making cities healthier. I’m delighted now to provide a home for WHO in Seoul. Above all else, Seoul’s citizens value the beautiful natural environment surrounding our city—its waterways, mountains, green fields and clean air. We must do everything we can to protect them and the health of our citizens”. – World Health Organization