A Critique of WHO’s BreatheLife Campaign Materials

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “92% of the world’s population lives in places where the air quality levels exceeds the WHO limits.”

3 million deaths a year are associated with air pollution, and those in low income countries are particularly vulnerable, as are women, children and the elderly.

To combat these concerning findings, WHO has launched a new campaign, BreatheLife. The goal of the campaign is to increase awareness of the health affects of air pollution, and to create change from the government to individual level.

The audiences selected for this campaign are incredibly broad, ranging from national governments to individual citizens all across the globe. The campaign has thus created various materials to target these groups.

For cities and governments, a number of policy and informational focused materials are available, including factsheets, brochures, and reports

Image via: http://breathelife2030.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/9789241565080_eng.pdf

Health professionals are also a target for the campaign. Collateral including information on pregnancy and air pollution, and an article on the role health providers should play in climate change, are available

Image via: http://breathelife2030.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/ochp_prenatal_fs_7_10.pdf

Finally, for individuals, the campaign has numerous resources, including informational papers, tips to help people minimize pollution exposure, ways to reduce individual contributions to air pollution, and a sign-up to let your officials know you care about air pollution.

Image via: http://breathelife2030.org/solutions/actions-for-individuals/#

The campaign is in its early stages, but there are still some critiques to be made of the materials that currently exist.

The overarching critique is that, while the initial WHO report states that poorer counties are at a greater risk for air pollution issues, the materials still seem very focused on Western, developed nations. The materials are available in English and Spanish, but that still leaves out many affected nations in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

Suggestions for individuals like timing when to be outside, monitoring air levels, and working with a health professional to determine risk are not necessarily possible for many people who are effected and may work outdoors, not have a proper home/shelter, have little to no access to healthcare, and who lack any sort of resources to monitor air quality.

Certainly, for those who are the most effected yet least likely to be able to make changes in their life, government action is necessary. However, information for policy makers does not necessarily seem to be particularly effective or geared towards those most in need of it either. Again, there is the issue of language barriers. The material is also very dense and scientific. It offers a great deal of information about what can be done to combat air pollution, but does not necessarily offer information that would empower a government to make changes (for example, telling a government that bicycle programs are helpful, instead of sharing ways to create funding for a bicycle program; suggesting that the fossil fuel industry is a culprit, but offering no suggestions about the economic losses associated with the remove of these industries).

There are likely many initiatives within WHO and similar organizations aimed at reducing pollution that address many of the critiques here. However, WHO has made a point to promote and push this new campaign as a part of the overall solution. If it is truly to work, WHO may need to reconsider what their intended audiences actually need, and how campaign materials could be altered to better serve them.

Feature image via http://www.who.int/sustainable-development/news-events/breath-life/en/



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