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NIEHS Engages Environmental Health Challenges in Asia

By Eddy Ball
December 2007

According to Suk, international relationship building is the key to maximizing global health resources to address the problem of preventable mortality in developing countries.
According to Suk, international relationship building is the key to maximizing global health resources to address the problem of preventable mortality in developing countries. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Acting Deputy Director Bill Suk, Ph.D., traveled to Bangkok, Thailand for the 6th Princess Chulabhorn International Science Congress (PC VI) November 26 - 29. The conference was his third meeting on the continent this fall as part of NIEHS engagement of environmental health challenges in the developing countries of Asia.

Suk's recent travels to Asia are an integral part of the Institute's pursuit of the fourth goal of the Strategic Plan - to "develop a program in global environmental health." As he explained in one of the talks he gave in China, "Environmental threats to vulnerable populations in Asia comprise a significant global public health challenge ... [and are certain to grow exponentially] as nations in the region undergo increasingly rapid industrial development."

At PC VI, Suk chaired a workshop on "Interdisciplinary Approaches to Research on Arsenic Exposure, Susceptibility and Human Health: Current Advances and Future Directions." The workshop was part of a forum titled "The Interface of Chemistry and Biology in the 'Omics' Era" that highlighted how linkages between areas of research growing out of the Human Genome Project can contribute to the treatment and prevention of diseases in the global population. Suk was a part of a group of scientists who shared their expertise on environmental genomics and human health with colleagues from throughout the world.

In October and early November, Suk participated in two back-to-back conferences in Beijing, China. The first was the Pacific Basin Consortium for Environment and Health Sciences 12th International Conference held at Peking University October 26 - 29. There, he delivered a keynote address on "Strategies for Addressing Global Environmental Health Concerns." The conference was sponsored by eight organizations with interests in global environmental health, including NIEHS, a veteran supporter of the Consortium.

Immediately afterwards, Suk crossed the city to address participants at Forum 11, the 2007 annual meeting of the Global Forum for Health Research October 29 - November 2. As his part of this high-profile gathering, Suk presented a talk on "Promotion of International Collaborative Research Related to Children's Health and the Environment." Each year at the invitation of the Ministry of Health of the People's Republic of China, the meeting brings together several hundred policy makers, researchers and research leaders, and representatives of development agencies, research institutions and the private sector to address gaps in global health research.

This year's forum focused on "Equitable Access: Research Challenges for Health in Developing Countries." The meeting's theme addressed what is known among global health scientists as the "10/90 gap." The term refers to a glaring discrepancy in global health - the imbalance between global health resources, which are less than ten percent of the world's funding for health research, and the magnitude of the problem in developing countries, where more than 90 percent of the world's burden of "preventable mortality" occurs.

In addition to Suk's role in developing partnerships in Asia, efforts to develop a program in global environmental health have included forums held in January and September 2007, co-chaired by William Martin, M.D., NIEHS associate director of Translational Research. During the summer, NIEHS analyzed its grant portfolio as part of an effort spearheaded by Ben Van Houten, Ph.D., chief of the Program Analysis Branch, to maximize current grant opportunities for scientists in developing countries and encourage international partnerships to utilize best the resources available.

Looking to the future, Suk recently announced the appointment of E. Ann Davis, Ph.D., as a special assistant in the Office of the Deputy Director. Davis is on detail from the Fogarty International Center's Division of International Relations, where she was very successful in advancing global environmental health by enabling a broader perspective in building research capacity through creative collaborations. "Ann is the sort of veteran relationship builder who can help NIEHS advance to the next stage of international partnering," Suk said.

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