Health groups call on the leaders of the Western Balkan countries to harmonize national air quality standards with the World Health Organization Global air quality guidelines. Health experts should be actively involved in these decision-making processes to ensure the timely integration of public health measures into environmental policies. Compliance with WHO recommendations brings multiple benefits – reduced incidence of chronic diseases and premature deaths, reduced overall health costs and, most importantly, better health and higher productivity of people.
The Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) is calling on city authorities to clean up the air in Europe and meet the WHO’s air quality guidelines as part of the “Unmask my City” campaign (1). Unmask My City is a global initiative by doctors, nurses, public health practitioners, and allied healthcare professionals dedicated to improving air quality and reducing emissions in our cities. This will save millions of lives, improve health outcomes for billions of people, and make a huge contribution to greenhouse gas reductions needed to keep the world safe from climate change crises (2).
HEAL is a co-initiator of Unmask my city and leads the campaign in Europe.
Together with local doctors, concerned patients and health experts, HEAL has launched Unmask my city initiatives in Adana, Belgrade, Canakkale, Hatay, Istanbul, Sofia, Tuzla and Warsaw (3). Further cities are expected to join in the next months.
In its efforts for clean air, HEAL is supported in Europe by the Standing Committee of European Doctors (CPME), International Association of Mutual Benefit Societies (AIM), European Respiratory Society (ERS), European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (EAACI), European Federation of Allergy and Airways Diseases Patients’ Associations (EFA), European Lung Foundation (ELF), and the International Primary Care Respiratory Group (IPCRG).
The Unmask my city initiative is part of a growing movement of citizens and individuals measuring air quality and calling for clean air in their communities.
A key feature of the campaign is the creation of visual communication materials showing people in different cities using a ‘light mask,’ a face mask equipped with LED indicators to monitor air quality. When air quality is good and PM2.5 levels are low, the mask lights up green; when air quality is bad and levels are high, the mask turns red. For each of the Unmask city, health professionals also bring forward evidence on the local pollution sources and solutions best suited to create positive change and improve air quality.
Air pollution in Europe is responsible for more than 400,000 early deaths in Europe every year. (5) Three quarters of the European Union’s population lives in urban areas and this percentage will increase to 80% by 2020.
HEAL gratefully acknowledges the financial support of the European Union (EU), the European Climate Foundation (ECF) and the Global Climate and Health Alliance (GCHA) for Unmask my city work. The responsibility for content lies with the authors and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the EU institutions and funders. The Executive Agency for Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (EASME) and the funders are not responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained here. HEAL EU transparency register number: 00723343929-96