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Your Environment. Your Health.

A Look Inside the New NIEHS-WHO Collaborating Centre Workplan

By John Balbus

The redesignation of the NIEHS-WHO Collaborating Centre in September 2017 offers a fresh opportunity to look into the Centre’s new workplan and describe how NIEHS will partner with WHO over the next four years.

As the world’s largest environmental health research institution, NIEHS has many focus areas that overlap with Global Environmental Health priorities. While differences between NIEHS and WHO priorities can be distinct, the new workplan seeks to stimulate more innovative, cross-cutting activities around broader themes. Thus, the workplan is organized around four major topics that correspond to different arenas of science and international collaboration.

Topics include:

  • Children’s environmental health;
  • The influence of environmental factors on non-communicable diseases (NCDs);
  • Health consequences of climate and weather extremes; and
  • The International Chemical Risk Assessment Network.

Children’s Environmental Health

NIEHS continues its global leadership in this field and endeavors to raise awareness and build capacity to better protect children around the world. Exposures of active interest applying to this theme include electronic product waste materials (E-waste) and indoor air pollution. Topics of especially high priority include the developmental origins of health and disease (DOHaD) and designing interventions to protect children during their most vulnerable windows of development.

This focus area demonstrates how NIEHS activities may involve one or more themes, since the DOHaD hypothesis is linked to causation of many NCDs in adult life. Under this theme, NIEHS seeks to further cultivate continued leadership and expansion of an international network of WHO Collaborating Centres’ in children’s environmental health.

Environmental Influence on non-communicable diseases

Most major global health interventions for non-communicable diseases (NCDs) focus on changing lifestyles and adult behaviors. As mentioned above, there is mounting evidence that early life, and even prenatal exposures, can influence the risks of developing NCDs in later life.

Further, NIEHS activities related to indoor and outdoor air pollution and DOHaD fall under this theme. Accordingly, the workplan features continued collaboration, both regionally and globally, to help implement WHO’s indoor air guidelines, and support clean cooking fuels and household energy sources. New activities in the workplan will explore collaboration with WHO on understanding and preventing chronic kidney disease of unknown origin (CKDu), a growing epidemic among young adults in Central America and South Asia.

Health Consequences of Climate and Weather Extremes

NIEHS partners with WHO to raise awareness of the health consequences of climate change and the health benefits of activities that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, such as reducing combustion of coal for energy. The institute partnered with the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) to hold a workshop on enhancing the resilience of health care facilities to extreme weather hazards. The new workplan includes continued collaboration, with a focus on educational materials for health professionals and further collaboration on health system resilience.

International Risk Assessment Network

Over the past four years, NIEHS played a leading role in the development of the WHO Chemical Risk Assessment Network. These activities continue to be a formal part of the collaborating center’s workplan. NIEHS will continue to support the meetings and communications through which the Network helps build capacity for risk assessment and understanding of the health impacts of chemical exposures.

By stepping back from specific focus areas and framing our work around these broader themes, the NIEHS-WHO Collaborating Centre hopes to stimulate more innovative, cross-cutting activities around the world.