Skip directly to content

Planetary Health: addressing major public health threats caused by human impacts on the natural world

on Mon, 06/13/2016 - 01:41

Over the last few decades, global health has emerged as a powerful new discipline for addressing critical human health challenges. Despite recent health gainsincluding significant reduction in infant and child mortality, maternal mortality, and poverty; and increase in life expectancythere is growing evidence that the planet’s capacity to sustain the growing human population is declining. The degradation of air, water, and land, has resulted in a significant loss in biodiversity, puting on risk the human species and the environment where they live. As a result, disease patterns are changing and new diseases are emerging, such are the cases of recent outbreaks of Ebola in West Africa, ChikungunyaZika virus in the Americas, and the epidemic of noncommunicable diseases worldwide.

The recently release of Rockefeller Foundation-Lancet Commission on Planetary Health outlines key opportunities [1] to advance public health through more robust approaches to environmental stewardship: The Planetary Health.

The Commission on Planetary Health stated: 

"we have been mortgaging the health of future generations to realize economic and development gains in the present. By unsustainably exploiting nature's resources, human civilization has flourished but now risks substantial health effects from the degradation of nature's life support systems in the future. Health effects from changes to the environment including climatic change, ocean acidification, land degradation, water scarcity, overexploitation of fisheries, and biodiversity loss pose serious challenges to the global health gains of the past several decades and are likely to become increasingly dominant during the second half of this century and beyond. These striking trends are driven by highly inequitable, inefficient, and unsustainable patterns of resource consumption and technological development, together with population growth."

The panetary health is defined as

"the achievement of the highest attainable standard of health, wellbeing, and equity worldwide through judicious attention to the human systems—political, economic, and social—that shape the future of humanity and the Earth's natural systems that define the safe environmental limits within which humanity can flourish. Put simply, planetary health is the health of human civilisation and the state of the natural systems on which it depends"[2].

Planetary health, as new discipline, incorporates the interdependencies of human and natural systems, while also recognizing preserving the integrity of natural systems as an essential precondition for human health, survival, and prosperity.

Measuring, monitoring situation and evaluating progress over time in human health and its interaction with ecosystems is an essential function of the planetary health. The Environmental Performance Index (EPI) -an initiative from Yale University and Columbia University- could be used as synthetic metric for this function. It ranks countries’ performance on high-priority environmental issues in two policy objectives: protection of human health and protection of ecosystems. EPI score, comprised of 20 indicators from nine issue areas (see EPI Framework), ranges from 0 to 100, where values near zero means worst-performance and values near 100 means high-performance.

The visualization shows the EPI score 2016 by country and its relationship with the two overarching objective indexes: Environmental Health, and Ecosystem Vitality. EPI data sets are available for download here.   

Some findings:

In 2016, Somalia wit a score of 27.66 is ranked as the country with the worst performance and Finland with a score of 90.68 as the country with the best performance, for an absolute difference of 63.02 worldwide.

Nordic nations appear at the top of rankings for the world’s greenest countries, with Finland, Iceland, Sweden and Denmark taking the first four places.

Somalia, Eritrea, Madagascar, Niger, Afghanistan, and Chad appear at the bottom of rankings

The map shows two clusters of countries with the low-performance located in Sub-Sahara Africa and South Asia. 


  1. Whitmee, S. et al. Safeguarding human health in the Anthropocene epoch: report of The Rockefeller Foundation–Lancet Commission on planetary health. The Lancet. 2015; 386: 10007, p1973–2028. Avaliable online  (accessed on 12 June 2016)
  2. Horton, R, Beaglehole, R, Bonita, R, Raeburn, J, McKee, M, and Wall, S. From public to planetary health: a manifesto. Lancet. 2014; 383: 847. Available online: 06 March 2014 (accessed on 12 June 2016)
  3. Planetary Health. Special Edition. The Economist. 2014. Available online [pdf file] (accessed on 12 June 2016)



Very pertinent information to inform policy makers and citizens of the World in moments when we need to act now to protect us and the future generations.
Thank you very much for your excellent contribution.

Post new comment