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Chem HelpDesk user guide for general public

Achieving the eradication of poverty and disease, the improvement of human health and the environment and the elevation and maintenance of the standards of living cannot be ensured if the principles of sustainable development are not integrated into country policies and programmes. While chemicals have become one of the essential elements of global development, it is clear that their sound management – in particular that of substances hazardous to humans and the environment – throughout their life cycle needs to be assured. Most countries of South-East Asia still lack the needed capacity for the sound management of chemicals and there is an increasing need for acquiring better knowledge of chemical safety.

Major efforts by the international community, donors, Secretariats of Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEA) and intergovernmental organizations have been done globally, including in countries of South-East Asia, to promote and implement capacity building towards the improvement of chemicals management.

Nevertheless, there is still a significant gap between developed and developing countries in this regard. And this gap is widening by the day due to reduced capacity, poorer countries are lagging behind the latest developments in the field of chemical safety.

There is thus an urgent need to develop and implement complementary processes to strengthen the capability of developing countries for sound chemicals management and for integrating chemical safety issues into broader national development strategies.

This widening gap was first recognised by the Intergovernmental Forum for Chemical Safety (IFCS) who advocated for the establishment of Help Desk to overcome this handicap affecting mainly developing countries. This idea need was also supported by the Inter-Organization Programme for the Sound Management of Chemicals (IOMC).

The need to strengthen capacity building is clearly addressed within the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM). SAICM is a formal policy framework for international action on chemical hazards, supports the achievement of the goal agreed at the 2002 Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development. The global goal is “to ensure that by the year 2020 chemicals are produced and used in ways that minimized significant adverse impacts on the environment and human health”. WHA59.15 requests WHO to facilitate the implementation by the health-sector of SAICM, focusing on human health-related elements.

In the SAICM Global Plan of Action, under “Objective 4: “Capacity building to support national actions”, the activity number 208 is described as follows:

“Establish a systematic approach in order to facilitate the provision of advice concerning capacity-building for the sound management of chemicals at the country level to countries that request it. For example:

  • Consider establishing a help desk which would provide basic advice to countries and/or refer requests to relevant sources (policy institutions, experts, data banks, information, etc) of expertise, policy guidance, funding and guidelines;
  • Ensure that the process above builds on existing information and tools for capacity building and acts in a complementary way to existing initiatives;
  • Consider establishing monitoring mechanisms as part of the SAICM stocktaking processes to evaluate the usefulness of the process;
  • Implement a pilot project to test and refine the concept prior to global implementation.

Such a "process" can provide essential support for the overall implementation of SAICM and thus may be considered as a high priority activity.”

The World Health Assembly in 2006 through Resolution WHA59.15 endorses the global goal “to ensure that by the year 2020 chemicals are produced and used in ways that minimize significant adverse impacts on the environment and human health” and requests WHO to facilitate the implementation by the health-sector of SAICM, focusing on human health-related elements. As mentioned above, insufficient progress has been made in the countries of South-East Asia in addressing the various challenges posed by chemical substances and their management, throughout their life cycle.

The idea of establishing a regional Help Desk for  Chemical Safety that would allow countries in the Region to have rapid and easy access to needed knowledge was discussed between the Chulabhorn Research Institute (CRI) and the staff of the CRI International Centre for Environmental Health and Toxicology (ICEHT), Bangkok, Thailand – a WHO Collaborating Center for Capacity Building and Research in Environmental Health Science since 2005 - and the WHO Regional Office for South-East Asia (SEARO). This specifically dedicated regional Help Desk for Chemical Safety, termed cri/WHO searo “Chem HelpDesk” is the outcome of that process, and will help strengthen national capacities for the sound management of chemicals, including the capacity to further integrate chemicals management into development strategies.