Progress in environmental health research has helped to highlight concerns about the potential serious hazards posed by some chemicals on human health.
Since 2006, the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) has aimed to promote the sound management of chemicals. The SAICM is a multi-sectoral and multi-stakeholder policy framework aimed at promoting the sound management of chemicals and hazardous waste in the context of sustainable development. Since 2009, it has included a component for strengthening the engagement of the health sector in the implementation of the Strategic Approach, in consultation with the WHO. Special attention is required to protect those in society that are particularly vulnerable to risks from hazardous chemicals such as children and workers. The World Medical Association (WMA) has been engaged in the development of the strategy to strengthen the involvement of the health sector in SAICM.
Mercury, even in relatively low doses, can have serious, adverse impacts on health, particularly in relation to neurodevelopment. However, mercury has been an integral part of many medical devices, mostly thermometers and sphygmomanometers. These devices break or leak on a regular basis, adding to the global burden of mercury in the environment and exposing health care personnel to the acute effects of the metal itself.
An increasing number of health and environment organisations are engaging in advocacy to reduce the over-exposure to mercury of children and adults and to explore the replacement of mercury-based medical devices by affordable, accurate and safer alternatives.
In 2008, the WMA joined the UNEP Global Mercury Partnership in their “Mercury Reduction in Products” area. The goal of this partnership is to protect human health and the global environment from the release of mercury and its compounds.
In 2013, countries adopted the Minamata Convention on Mercury, a legally-binding multilateral environmental agreement. It regulates the use and release of mercury in the environment from sectors such as artisanal mining, coal combustion, and mercury-added products. The WMA was involved in the negotiation process of the Convention.