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National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

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First Global Forum Formalizes Network to Reduce Heat Health Risks

By Hunter Jones, NOAA (UCAR Affiliate)

busy street in Hong Kong, China
The streetscape of highly-urbanized Hong Kong, which served as the host city of the First Global Forum on Heat and Health
(Photo courtesy of Hunter Jones)

On December 17, 2018, over 120 heat health practitioners and researchers from more than 33 countries converged in Hong Kong to launch a new network focused on reducing heat health risks worldwide. The First Global Forum on Heat and Health served to formally launch the Global Heat Health Information Network (GHHIN). The forum and network are the first steps to coordinate effort globally to develop strategies to manage current heat health risks and develop long-term solutions to mitigate the impacts of future global changes. Hong Kong was chosen as the host of the first Forum, because the city not only suffers the consequences of the urban heat island effect, but local scientists are considered leaders in researching innovative approaches to manage urban heat.

TC Lee, Ph.D., of the Hong Kong Observatory

TC Lee, Ph.D., of the Hong Kong Observatory demonstrates how weather broadcasts are created in front of a green screen as part of discussions on communications.
(Photo courtesy of Joy Shumake)

The inaugural forum was designed to break the mold of scientific conferences by bringing practitioners together to provide fresh, real-world perspectives on heat health risk, and to seek broad participation from diverse fields, such as medical science, urban planning, meteorology, and economics. The program covered technical areas of heat health risk – from capacity and partnership building, exposure and vulnerability, to actions and interventions to manage risk, but it also took advantage of the many experts in attendance and included sessions designed to foster a shared understanding of the nuances of many fields.

Participants vote during a mock debate

Participants at the First Global Forum on Heat and Health vote during a mock debate.
(Photo courtesy of Robbie Parks)

The forum also featured a full day on understanding communication challenges associated with heat and health and included a skills-oriented workshop. Attendees participated in a mock emergency exercise of a high impact heat wave resulting in many casualties to learn the importance of timely, clear and concise communication with the public, media, governments and stakeholders. Participants also participated in a mock debate intended to illuminate the challenge of prioritizing risk reduction actions with a limited budget.

On the final day of the forum, participants took part in site visits arranged by local hosts. One visit took participants to Hong Kong’s subdivided flats, which are known to heat up on hot days and often force tenants to evacuate to sidewalks and rooftops. Other participants had a choice to visit either the Senior Citizen Home Safety Association, to learn how elders are cared for during heatwaves, the Hong Kong Housing Authority Exhibition Center to learn about public housing challenges from a policy perspective, or the Hong Kong Observatory to learn how heat waves are modeled and predicted by a leading Meteorological agency.

Insights from the First Global Forum on Heat and Health

During the forum, participants shared challenges and successes in addressing heat risks. Throughout the technical sessions, a variety of opportunities to address heat risks were identified:

  • Partnership and capacity-building for heat health management networks,
  • Understanding risk and predicting health outcomes,
  • Weather and climate information to facilitate action,
  • Managing heat risks through evidence-based interventions, and
  • Improving communications for heat action.

Participants also provided other suggestions through formal and informal feedback mechanisms that will be shared on the GHHIN web site.

The Forum Takes a New Approach to Building a Network

Formally launched with this forum, the Global Heat Health Information Network (GHHIN) will accelerate progress on heat health risk reduction. The network aims to leverage the collective expertise of scientists and practitioners in government, private industry, and other organizations to generate new ideas and facilitate sharing of evidence-based practices and measures. It also aims to support research projects and risk-reduction actions in communities by building connections across national, institutional, disciplinary, and technological boundaries.

The forum concluded with great enthusiasm, and several offers from participants to host the next global forum to show what collaborators aim to achieve. A Global Assessment on Heat Health Understanding and Action will be developed to highlight the state of the science and summarize current practices to reduce the impact of heat on health. The assessment will also share the activities of countries and organizations working to manage risks and will describe research priorities and challenges in practice.

The GHHIN website will evolve over the next two years to meet the demands of the forum community, aiming to serve as a space to find experts who specialize in managing heat risks, provide a good practice exchange, and support the training of new experts in heat and health through publicizing opportunities for students.

GHHIN forum members
GHHIN forum members from over 33 countries attended the December meeting held in Hong Kong.
(Photo courtesy of Robbie Parks)

Related Links & Resources

The NIEHS Global Environmental Health Program participates in the Global Heat Health Information Network and supports it through the Climate Change and Human Health Group (CCHHG) of the US Global Change Research Program (GCRP). NIEHS co-chairs the CCHHG and serves as HHS representative to the White House Subcommittee on Global Change Research, which oversees the activities of the GCRP.