Environmental Factor, November 2007, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
NIEHS Leads Global Environmental Health Forum in Bethesda
By Eddy Ball
In the most recent development in its Global Environmental Health (GEH) program, NIEHS sponsored a Forum, titled "How Partnerships Overcome Barriers to Improve Global Environmental Health," on September 28 at the Cloisters on the NIH Bethesda Campus. The gathering was designed to foster informal collaborative networks among U.S. and foreign public and private sector organizations with interests in GEH.
According to organizers, the day-long meeting gave individuals who normally have little occasion to interact with one another a rare opportunity to explore shared interests and potential partnerships that could offer mutual benefits and enhanced outcomes as a result of shared resources and expertise.
The meeting was co-chaired by William Martin, M.D., NIEHS associate director of Translational Research, and Jacob Moss, senior advisor in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Air and Radiation. The goal of the meeting was to identify cost-effective, sustainable partnership strategies with other government agencies, foundations, non-government organizations (NGOs), foreign governments, community groups and private industry to apply environmental health science in the developing world.
Participants were affiliated with a broad range of institutions, organizations and businesses. Private sector for-profit participants included Coca Cola, Enzen Global and Bosch-Siemens, makers of clean burning biomass cook stoves with the potential for reducing significantly the indoor air pollution that contributes to the deaths of 1.6 million individuals each year.
They were joined by funding sources, such as the Shell Foundation and the Global Environment and Technology Foundation, and NGOs. The latter ranged from the well-known World Health Organization to the grass-roots KIWAKKUKI, the Kilimanjaro (Tanzania) Women against AIDS, and the non-profit Population Services International, which harnesses the vitality of private sector marketing to address the health problems of low-income and vulnerable populations in more than 60 developing countries.
In addition to Martin, NIEHS Acting Deputy Director Bill Suk, Ph.D., and Gwen Collman, Ph.D., chief of the Susceptibility and Population Health Branch in the Division of Extramural Research and Training, spoke at the meeting. NIEHS grantees making presentations on "Environmental Disease in the Developing World" included Kirk Smith, Ph.D., Joseph Graziano, Ph.D., and Gerald Wogan, Ph.D. Grantee and former NIEHS National Advisory Environmental Health Sciences Council member Peter Spencer, Ph.D., was also in attendance.
The event brought together several federal agencies, including the EPA, Centers for Disease Control, U. S. Group on Earth Observations, the U.S. Agency for International Development and U.S. Department of State. Dan Carucci, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH) Grand Challenges in Global Health Initiative, spoke on public-private partnerships, and participants attended from the John E. Fogarty International Center, NIH Office of the Director, National Center for Minority Health and Health Disparities, National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
Martin is currently working on a summary white paper on the forum and organizing reams of working notes from discussion groups. He envisions several possible options, but has no firm plans at this time, for future directions within the GEH program. There are massive challenges, he explained, but, from the NIEHS perspective, the key to addressing issues of environmental health in the developing world lies in bridge building and facilitating cooperative efforts.
Stressing the importance of such partnerships, Martin referred to an epigram by colleague Jacob Moss that he plans to include in the meeting summary: "The world is intuitively weaving itself into collaborative networks; those that do it better, prosper."