Raise awareness of environmental health issues in order to better protect our children and future generations.

05 March 2014

Electrohypersensitivity (EHS) and the World Health Organization (WHO)

Organs and glands sensitive to
electromagnetic radiation.
While WHO recognizes the condition of electromagnetic hypersensitivity, it still does not necessarily believe that these symptoms are caused by exposure to electromagnetic radiation, despite the fact that studies have found a correlation between symptoms and exposure. Another problem is that this condition has not been officially classified as a disability.

Disability and EHS
EMR and Health: Quarterly report on Electromagnetic radiation, health and well-being Vol 10 No 1 March 2014, Australia

Does the WHO’s new report on disabilities herald a better future for people with electromagnetic hypersensitivity?

On 3 January the World Health Organization (WHO) released a draft plan for improving the health of people with disabilities. The plan is based on the World Report on Disability released the previous May which shows that approximately 15% of the population have disabilities and the incidence is rising.1

The goal of the WHO’s plan is to ‘contribute to achieving optimal health, functioning, well-being and human rights for persons with disabilities.’ It envisages a society in which people with disabilities have ‘equal rights and opportunities’ and can ‘achieve their full potential’. 

So what is a disability and does it apply to people with electromagnetic hypersensitivity?  The WHO says, ‘this action plan uses “disability” as an umbrella term for impairments, activity limitations and participation restrictions, denoting the negative aspects of the interaction between an individual (with a health condition) and that individual’s contextual (environmental and personal) factors.’

Certainly this definition appears to apply to the condition of electromagnetic hypersensitivity. Many people with this condition report serious impairments in their activities and their ability to function in society. Some are unable to venture into public areas where signals from mobile phones, WiFi and phone towers are present. This often prevents them accessing public transport, medical treatment and enjoying normal social interactions. 

The WHO recognises the condition of electromagnetic hypersensitivity. In a fact sheet published in 2005, it described the condition as follows: 

EHS is characterized by a variety of non-specific symptoms, which afflicted individuals attribute to exposure to EMF. The symptoms most commonlyexperienced include dermatological symptoms (redness, tingling, and burning sensations) as well as neurasthenic and vegetative symptoms (fatigue, tiredness, concentration difficulties, dizziness, nausea, heart palpitation, and digestive disturbances). 2

However, the Organization does not necessarily believe that these symptoms are caused by exposure to EMR, despite the fact that studies have found a correlation between symptoms and exposure. Another problem is that EHS has not been officially classified as a disability.
The WHO document includes an action plan designed to achieve its aim of better health for people with disabilities. The action plan talks about ‘non-discrimination’, ‘accessibility’ and ‘respect’ – basic rights that are not enjoyed by people with EHS.

In order for people with EHS to enjoy the full benefits of the WHO’s action plan, it would be necessary for authorities to, firstly, recognize EHS as a disability and, secondly, recognize that EHS is triggered by exposure to electromagnetic radiation. Because the incidence of EHS appears to be increasing, it is likely to be only a matter of time before this correction is recognized. When it is, how might the three objectives of the WHO plan be applied to this condition?

Here are our suggestions. 

Objective 1:
‘To remove barriers and improve access to health services and programs.’ 

How this might be applied to EHS: 

- Doctors could be given information and training in the existence of EHS; 

- Medical facilities (doctors’ surgeries and hospitals) might be low-EMR zones and this could be achieved by use of shielding, wired technologies and signage requesting patients and staff not to use wireless devices.
- Doctors could make home visits to patients with EHS who find it difficult to travel to appointments. 

Objective 2: 
‘To strengthen and extend rehabilitation, habilitation, assistive technology, assistance and support services, and community-based rehabilitation.’ 

How this might be applied to people with EHS: 

- EMF-free accommodation could be provided and low-cost shielding could be provided for homes.
Assistance with essential services could be provided, including shopping, banking, and low-EMR transport. 

Objective 3:
‘To strengthen collection of relevant and internationally comparable data on disability and support research on disability and related services’.

How this might be applied to EHS: 

- Resources could be made available for independent research on EHS focusing on causes, biological changes related to exposure and remediation. 

1. WHO Secretariat, ‘Disability—Draft WHO global disability action plan 2014-2021: Better health for all people with disabilities,’ Executive Board, 134th session, Agenda item 7.3, 3 January 2014.
2. WHO, ‘Electromagnetic Fields and Pubic Health—Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity’, Fact Sheet, December 2005, http://www.who.int/peh-emf/publications/facts/fs296/en/


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