Launch of SunSmart Global UV App to Help Protect Against and Prevent Sun Exposure 
Woman applying sunscreen.

A new app for mobile phones that provides localized information on ultraviolet (UV) radiation levels has been created by the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the World Meteorological Organization, and the International Labour Organization (ILO). 

The app is available free of charge on both the Apple App and Google Play stores for Iphones and Androids, and includes national and local data streams for UV and weather forecasts. It is available in multiple languages – Chinese, English, French, Russian, Dutch, and Spanish. It’s also a rare example in the UN system of a growing trend – harnessing real-time environmental data for public use and greater health benefits. 

Launched to coincide with the first day of summer in the northern hemisphere, the SunSmart Global UV app provides 5-day UV and weather forecasts at searchable locations. The app is based on the 11-point UV Index scale, with 1 (“Low”) to 11 (“High”) representing the potential for UV damage to skin and eyes. 

In an effort to reduce the global burden of skin cancer and UV-related eye damage, the app also highlights time slots when sun protection is required with the aim of helping people around the world know when to use sun protection. Using sun protection is recommended when the UV index is 3 or above. 

“Evidence shows that overexposure to UV is the major cause of skin cancer. So it’s vital for people to know when and how to protect themselves,” said Dr Maria Neira, WHO Director, Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health.

Skin cancer from prolonged unhealthy exposure to UV radiation is highly preventable 

It is estimated that over 1.5 million cases of skin cancer (melanoma and non-melanoma) globally were diagnosed in 2020. And during that same year, more than 120,000 people lost their lives to this highly preventable disease. 

One of the leading factors contributing to skin cancer is the penetration to earth of excess UV radiation as a result of the earth’s thinning stratospheric ozone layer. 

In the course of the last century, the stratospheric ozone layer was significantly depleted as a result of the increased use of, and release to the atmosphere, of certain ozone depleting chemicals, including chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), hydrochloroflourocarbons (HCFCs), as well as methyl bromide and other bromoflourocarbons into the atmosphere. Such chemicals are used in refrigeration, air cooling, aerosols, and other applications, and in the case of methlbromide, as a pesticide and fumigant agriculture.

While the most powerful ozone-depleting chemicals were banned by the UN Montreal Protocol of 1987, others have continued to be used – and in any case ozone that is already depleted takes years to rebuild.  

Global health leaders and experts encourage use of the app to prevent and protect against prolonged unhealthy exposure to UV radiation. 

”We encourage everyone to use the application to  protect themselves and their children, and to make this a daily habit,” said Neira. 

“The SunSmart App is a fantastic UV monitoring tool, and I would encourage everyone to use it,” advised Meg Seki, Executive Secretary of UNEP’s Ozone Secretariat.

Contributes to safe and healthy work environments, says ILO

The ILO describes the SunSmart app as relevant to both workers and employers in outdoors occupations, enabling them to identify hazardous work conditions and plan protective safety and health measures accordingly.  The app’s release follows the ILO’s adoption of a resolution to add a safe and healthy work environment as part of its Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work earlier this month

“It is a global call for increased efforts to prevent work-related injuries and diseases. Tools such as SunSmart Global UV are a small but useful contribution to this endeavour,” said Vera Paquete-Perdigão, Director of the ILO’s Governance and Tripartism Department.

Image Credits: Fort George G. Meade Public Affairs Office/Flickr .

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