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National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

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U.S.-India Partnership Supports Health Sector Adaptation in the Face of Changing Climate

By Elizabeth Reavis

India faces some of the greatest challenges related to climate change, as millions feel the effects of droughts, floods, heat waves, and polluted air. Many of India’s health concerns, such as vector borne disease, malnutrition, and heat-related health impacts, are being further exacerbated by increasing extremes in temperature and precipitation.

Despite these concerns, the country has historically lacked the environmental public health capacity necessary to address them. To help close this gap, NIEHS has collaborated with researchers and academics in India to create the Understanding Climate and Health Associations in India (UCHAI) initiative. The initiative aims to build research and public health capacity in India on climate and health issues.

As part of this ongoing effort, NIEHS recently participated in two workshops held by the UCHAI community: one by the Indian Institute of Health Management Research (IIHMR), and the other with The Energy and resources Institute (TERI) and the Cooperative Institute for Climate Studies (CICS), which is affiliated with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). These workshops align with NIEHS’s decades-long commitment to improve the ability of countries to conduct research and find solutions for their environmental health problems. Through the workshops, stakeholders in India’s health sector are building skills and sharing best practices for new approaches to meeting India’s human health needs in the face of global climate change.

The UCHAI collaboration supports the mission of the NIEHS 2018-2023 Strategic Plan, which aims to improve training and capacity building in global health. According to the Strategic Plan, building environmental health science capacity around the world promotes improvement in global environmental health, while helping to ensure safety and health here at home.

The US-Indo Partnership Climate Resilience Workshop on Climate and Health , taking place October 23-24, 2018, will bring together climate and health stakeholders from as many as five different states from around India to discuss strategies for reducing human suffering, quantifying climate and health risks, and combating heat-related health risks. Experts will also showcase tools that use meteorological data to predict malaria incidence. During the workshop, researchers will have the opportunity to share updates on analytical frameworks and data sources they have adopted and expanded beyond traditional ecological studies. Non-governmental and community-based groups will also share information on their efforts to reduce the effect of heat waves on human health, in addition to improved preparedness measures to reduce the need for rescue and relief efforts during floods. The results of the collaborations formed during this workshop will be used to develop a plenary session for the TERI World Sustainable Development Summit in February 2019.

Leading the planning of this workshop is Meena Sehgal, M.P.H., an environmental health epidemiologist at TERI, which serves as the secretariat of the UCHAI initiative. “I believe that resource efficiency and environment management are the main keys to smart, sustainable, and inclusive development,” said Sehgal. She hopes that the work of TERI will accelerate the creation and deployment of action plans and early warning systems for use in future natural disasters.

During the workshop Sehgal will present a session titled “Climate and Vector Borne Disease: Relation of Vector Borne Disease to Temperature Changes – Can meteorology parameters help predict malaria?” This research topic is pertinent to the health concerns of India, as the country suffers 70 percent of global malaria cases. India has a goal to achieve malaria-free status by 2030, and Sehgal is hopeful this goal will be met. “To me, easier access to data through newer technologies, such as satellite or remote sensing data, combined with meteorology and climate forecasts, can dramatically improve early warnings and predictions.”

Sehgal looks forward to building on past workshops, which brought together health sector planners and young researchers, both keen on learning skills such as the downscaling of climate data. “We can see willingness on both the part of climate and health professionals to understand the challenges and benefits of collaborating. These partnerships may be working on a small scale, but in a couple of years, we should see many more states join in to address a number of climate sensitive illnesses.”