GEOHealth: Research and Training Hubs Focus on Environmental and Occupational Health in Developing Countries
By: Sara Mishamandani
In low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), the problem of contaminated air, water, and soil remain a major concern. Many of these countries lack the resources and expertise to study the link between environmental and occupational exposures and disease. The Global Environmental and Occupational health (GEOHealth) program, launched by the NIH Fogarty International Center (FIC) in partnership with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), is working to rectify this.
The GEOHealth program is intended to create regional centers for collaborative research, data management, policy support, and training to enhance environmental and occupational health research in LMICs. In 2012, $3.2 million in two-year grants was awarded to support planning for the research centers in 16 countries around the globe. Each GEOHealth grants are awarded to two institutions, one from United States and one from the host country that will manage each regional hub.
This initial set of planning grants allows partners to assess opportunities and needs in the country, prepare to conduct research and training activities, and foster sustainable partnerships. The development of these multidisciplinary centers will create and build upon key capabilities within LMIC institutions to address high priority environmental and occupational health issues with a range of research and training approaches.
“The lack of strong institutional capacity is not only a serious health concern for developing countries, but it is also a significant barrier to the needs of the global scientific community to understand environmental and occupational health threats where they are most acute,” said Christine Jessup, Ph.D., Program Officer for the GEOHealth Program. “FIC envisions that GEOHealth centers will become global leaders in the collection, management, synthesis and interpretation of data on environmental and occupational health, ideally serving the larger multi-national regions in which they reside.”
Following this initial planning phase, FIC and its partners intend to solicit applications for full-scale GEOHealth centers. The multidisciplinary GEOHealth centers will lead collaborative research to address a wide variety of environmental and occupational health topics, including water quality, indoor and outdoor air quality, electronic waste, climate change, workplace safety, and agricultural health, among others, that reflect the country- and region-specific priorities.
“The GEOHealth program will build concentrated expertise into highly-networked multidisciplinary policy-relevant research hubs in LMICs for laboratory and population-based study of environmental and occupational health,” said Jessup. “This will create both local and global scientific capacity to address these issues and support policy formulation in a rapidly changing and increasingly industrialized world.”
Some topics of interest to GEOHealth centers include: indoor air quality caused by cooking and heating fuels, the effect of gold mining on fish and other food sources, occupational health related to agriculture, environmental and health effects of climate change, the quality and safety of traditional medicines prepared from native plants, and health issues related to dumping of toxic waste, among other subjects.