In August, the World Health Organization (WHO) redesignated NIEHS as a WHO Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health for 2017–2021.
"It is essential that our research be translated and applied for public health purposes around the world," said NIEHS and National Toxicology Program Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D. "Our involvement as a WHO Collaborating Centre allows us to do that." She emphasized the importance of fostering international research collaborations and ensuring that NIEHS research is informed by global health priorities.
The workplan for the next four years establishes priorities in the following areas.
- Children's environmental health.
- Environmental factors and noncommunicable diseases, such as cardiovascular disease.
- Health consequences of weather and climate extremes.
- International network on chemical risk assessment.
In 2013, after several decades of working with WHO and its regional offices, NIEHS formally became a Collaborating Centre. More than 700 institutions in 80 countries are involved in these centers, including universities, research institutes, and public agencies like NIEHS. The institutions work with WHO and with each other on a wide range of health issues.
A solid foundation
John Balbus, M.D., NIEHS senior advisor for public health and director of the Collaborating Centre, summarized the center’s accomplishments through 2017.
- Creation of a network focused on children’s environmental health.
- Raising awareness of health issues associated with improperly recycled e-waste.
- Two summits and development of a literature portal on climate and health.
- More evidence connecting noncommunicable diseases with early-life exposures.
The center is housed within the NIEHS Global Environmental Health program, but Balbus stressed the involvement of scientists throughout NIEHS. "The Global Environmental Health Steering Committee and focus area leads helped craft and guide the new workplan and, more importantly, will carry out the activities it outlines," he said.
"The NIEHS Collaborating Centre has brought its invaluable expertise and research knowledge to WHO's work on environment and health at the global level," said Marie Noel Brune-Drisse, from the WHO Department of Health and Environment.
"Only through coordinated international, regional, and local initiatives will we be able to protect health, prevent environmental exposures, and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals," she added.
New initiatives include a workshop in Asia on children's environmental health, collaboration with the Pan American Health Organization to improve indoor air quality, and educational materials about the health consequences of climate and weather extremes.
A new effort focuses on environmental factors that affect chronic kidney disease of unknown origin(https://www.niehs.nih.gov/research/programs/geh/geh_newsletter/2016/10/articles/chronic_kidney_disease_on_the_rise_in_south_asia_and_central_america.cfm), which has an unusually high prevalence among young men in Central America and South Asia. NIEHS will also continue to provide support for the WHO Chemical Risk Assessment Network.
(Paula Whitacre is a contract writer for the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)