While housing conditions are known to influence health, little has been done to examine the scale of that influence. There is a growing body of evidence in the many ways that inadequate housing adversely affects the health of occupiers.
WHO recognizes that housing comprises four interrelated dimensions –
a. The physical structure of the house (or dwelling),
b. The home (psychosocial, economic and cultural construction created by the household),
c. The neighbour-hood infrastructure (physical conditions of the immediate housing environment) and
d. The community (social environment and the population and services within the neighbourhood).
Each of these four dimensions has the potential to have a direct or indirect impact on physical, social and mental health, and two or more of them combined can have an even larger impact.
Current evidence shows that the home – despite highly developed technologies, materials and construction styles–remains a major cause for ill health through exposure to many hazards/factors, including but not limited to: home injuries, chemical substances, mould and damp, noise, pests and infestations, poor access to water and sanitation, proximity to pollution sources, or flooding, and inadequate protection from extreme weather. These hazards/factors are further discussed below:
1. Lead Poisoning
Controlling exposures to lead in housing is known to be effective, including a combination of cleaning, covering and/or removing lead painted surfaces and removing lead-contaminated dust and soil. New housing projects should not use any materials containing lead. Even low-level exposure to lead has cognitive, developmental, neurological, behavioural, cardiovascular and other effects, and higher exposure levels can result in severe poisoning.
2. Household carbon monoxide poisoning
Carbon monoxide poisoning is a major cause of home poisoning related to the combustion of carbon-based fuels such as gas and solid fuels. Carbon monoxide exposure in indoor settings can quickly reach lethal levels but reliable, measured data on domestic exposure are rare. Poisoning by carbon monoxide occurs as the result of poorly ventilated and maintained combustion sources (gas boilers, fires etc). Children and fetuses are particularly vulnerable.
3. Indoor smoke from solid fuel use
The use of solid fuel for cooking or heating in open fires or inadequately vented stoves and ovens and in dwellings with poor ventilation produces high concentrations of air pollutants such as particulate matter and carbon monoxide. These pollutants have been linked to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer in adults and to pneumonia in children.
4. Indoor dampness and mould
Reducing exposure to damp and mould would be extremely beneficial to public health and prevent or reduce a large proportion of asthma among adolescents and adults. The cause of dampness and associated mould can be related to the design, construction, maintenance and use of the building. Good design and proper construction can help prevent problems from occurring. Timely maintenance, including speedy response to flooding or a plumbing malfunction, will help keep the dwelling in a sound condition. Also, making occupiers aware of how and when moisture is generated and how the use of ventilation can contribute to avoiding a build-up of moisture will also minimize health problems.
It may not be possible to avoid acute occurrences such as extreme weather events (e.g. storms and floods) but there should be effective responses to deal with the aftermath.
5. Asbestos and Man-made mineral fibres (MMMF)
Asbestos is a common material in older dwellings used for roofing and ceilings, but usually causing low level exposure unless disturbed. Chronic exposure to significant amount of asbestos increases the risk of lung cancer, asbestosis and the thickening of the cover of the lungs.
6. Electrical hazards
Poor wiring in a house can cause electrical shocks which could be fatal, this poor wiring could be due to the use of poor material, unprofessional installations and maybe lack of earthing.