Good health and well-being require a clean and harmonious environment in which physical, physiological, social and aesthetic factors are all given their due importance.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), health status depends on:
Indoors or outdoors, at home, work or school, human beings are exposed to a variety of environmental factors in the air, water or soil, and in food and other materials, via contact with the skin or inhalation.
Changes in lifestyle have had a tremendous impact. Obesity due to the over-consumption of food is now common, with over 300 million people affected worldwide. The impacts of environmental damage also affect human health. Although occasional contact with a contaminant may have negligible effects, prolonged exposure can result in serious health problems.
Many impacts on health are delayed. Some types of cancer, for example, have a latency period of 20 years or more. An individual’s physical reaction to a particular environmental hazard often depends on their personal susceptibility, including their genetic makeup. The effects of air pollution on the respiratory system are very different in people with asthma, for example, than in healthy individuals. Activity levels also affect the extent to which exposure to a particular environmental factor is harmful.
Children who play in a sandpit contaminated with lead, or cyclists on heavily polluted roads are at increased risk of developing health problems. Many diseases are caused by a combination of factors — socioeconomic circumstances, lifestyle, diet etc. — which makes it difficult to isolate the specific cause of a disease.
Air pollution and health
A large proportion of the population is affected by polluted air, especially in urban areas.
Contaminated food and water
Lead — In various locations in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), mainly around lead-emitting industries, people are exposed to very high levels of lead, which can result in impaired mental development and behavioural problems among children. Estimates indicate that at least 400,000 children are affected in CEE.
Radon — Miners and people living in areas with high levels of radon, a source of ionising radiation, are exposed to health risks. About 2 million people in Europe may be affected by radon.
Ultraviolet radiation — Test results show that ultraviolet radiation causes skin cancer and cataracts and can weaken the body’s immune system.
Waste — The collection, disposal and treatment of waste may pose health threats, as waste often contains hazardous chemical, biological and physical agents. The environment surrounding a landfill site can be contaminated by emissions to the ambient air or via the leaching of pollutants into surface water and groundwater.
Housing conditions — Poor sanitary conditions and the lack of a centralised water supply are the most significant factors affecting health, as they increase the risk of communicable diseases. The most common indoor air pollutants are carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide (produced by indoor combustion sources), tobacco smoke, volatile organic compounds emitted from building materials (paints and cleaning agents) and asbestos. Insufficient ventilation is another hazard and can result in both hypothermia and hyperthermia, as well as indoor air pollution. Physical or physiological discomfort and stress can be caused by a variety of factors, including excessive noise, which is estimated to affect one in four Europeans. These factors are related to poor housing conditions and/or inappropriate urban planning and development.
Road accidents — Around 350 people are killed on Europe's roads each day, and more than 6,300 are injured. Road accidents are now the principal cause of death among people between 15 and 24 years old. Road safety must therefore be regarded as a public health issue. Although accidents cannot be attributed directly to environmental factors, road safety — like air pollution — can be considered a transport problem, and therefore part of the larger issue of human health and the environment. By addressing transport, environment and health issues together, decision makers have the opportunity to identify comprehensive approaches. Preventive measures in these fields represent major advances in public health.
Respiratory diseases account for 70 percent of serious health problems among all age groups in Belarus, with 30 percent of cases caused by poor air quality. Injury, poisoning and the consequences of other external causes occupy second place, among both children and adults. Skin diseases and related ailments are the third most prevalent health problem, including among adolescents and children.
Infectious and parasitic diseases account for 5.1 percent of health problems, and poisoning for 4.9 percent. Diseases affecting the skin and subcutaneous tissue account for 3.9 percent, while digestive disorders and eye diseases account for 3.5 and 2.8 percent respectively.
Diseases of the circulatory system account for 55 percent of deaths with known causes in Belarus, while 13.6 percent of deaths can be attributed to tumours.
In recent years, the quality and safety of food produced in the country have improved. In 2003, over 150,000 food samples were investigated for the presence of chemical pollutants. Just over 1 percent of the samples did not meet hygienic standards, compared to 15 percent in 2002.
Noise, vibrations and electromagnetic radiation also affect human health. Studies indicate that between 15 and 35 percent of the population of the cities of Brest, Vitebsk, Mogilev and Babruysk suffer from acoustic discomfort. High levels of exposure to low-frequency electromagnetic radiation can damage the nervous, cardiovascular and endocrine systems.
Belarus has developed the programme "For the Health of the Nation" and has implemented national action plans for hygiene and environmental protection. The public authorities have also tightened control over the quality of drinking water and food. However, the health of each individual depends greatly on their lifestyle, a balanced diet, and an appropriate balance between work and recreation.
Although the overall number of regular drug users in Belarus is not high, drug use is most common among young people and students. Anonymous surveys conducted in the country suggest that up to 30 percent of teenagers in Belarus have experimented with various drugs.
Belarus has extremely severe penalties for all types of drug possession and trafficking, thus drug use is kept well out of the public view. As the purchasing of hard drugs is a serious criminal offence, the domestic cultivation of plant-based drugs for personal consumption is becoming increasingly common. Surplus drugs tend to circulate among friends and personal connections.
use is spread throughout the country, although it is most highly concentrated
in large industrial areas. Drugs trafficked into the country
originate primarily from Russia and Ukraine. The most common drugs used in Belarus are described below.
Opiates directly depress the central nervous system. They are prepared from the juice of the opium poppy and are mainly found in the form of three drugs:
Risks associated with the use of opiates include AIDS, blood poisoning and hepatitis resulting from injections and the use of non-sterilised or shared needles; death as a result of using crude heroin; death from overdose; and opiate addiction (especially heroin), which develops rapidly.
Opioids are surrogate synthetic opiate drugs that are not derived from opium but have a similar effect. Opioids include Darvon, Demerol, methadone and meperidine. Methadone is officially prescribed for the treatment of heroin addiction, although it also causes tolerance and dependence. The effects of methadone last much longer than those of morphine-based drugs. Opioid use may lead to tolerance and dependence. Withdrawal symptoms develop far more slowly and are less severe than those related to morphine and heroin, but they continue for longer. Ironically, methadone, which is used to control drug abuse, often appears on the black market. There are also reported cases of fatal methadone overdoses.
The synthetic composite levo-alpha-acetylmethadol or levacetylmethadol (LAAM) (also known by the trade name Orlaam), which is very similar to methadone, was approved as a treatment for drug addiction.
Cocaine and derivatives
These drugs cause a brief but intense feeling of euphoria and increased confidence. They stimulate the central nervous system, quicken the pulse and breathing rates, raise the blood pressure and body temperature, and cause the pupils to dilate. They also lead to increased agitation and anxiety, insomnia and chronic fatigue.
The dangers of cocaine use include bleeding and other damage to the nasal cavity; paranoid psychosis, hallucinations and other mental disorders; impaired motor reflexes; and death from cardiac abnormalities or respiratory arrest. Addiction to cocaine, in the form of both physical and psychological dependence, may occur after only a short period of use. In many cases, the use of crack results in immediate dependence.
These drugs may cause euphoria, a sense of carelessness, lack of motivation, incontinence, increased talkativeness, dry mouth and throat, increased appetite, impaired coordination, decreased concentration, memory loss and heart palpitations.
Immediate associated risks include poor learning and work performance; confused thoughts, frustration, depression and feelings of isolation; delayed sexual development and maturation, including adverse effects on sperm production and disruption of the menstrual cycle; and lung and respiratory ailments (smoking one marijuana joint is equivalent to 25 tobacco cigarettes). Large doses can cause hallucinations and paranoia; increased risks to health and safety due to impaired coordination and slowed responses; and dependence.
Marijuana is often classified as a "starter" or "gateway" drug, as some marijuana smokers later turn to harder drugs such as cocaine, LSD and other hallucinogens.
HallucinogensHallucinogens (psychotogenic or psychotomimetic agents) are drugs that distort human sensations, thoughts, emotions and perceptions.
Common signs of drug use
A person may be a drug user or addict if they have:
The information in this section was taken from the following sources:
Further information on public health and the environment can be obtained from the following sources: