The Fogarty International Center (FIC) hosted a virtual Global Environmental and Occupational Health (GEOHealth) Network Meeting on September 17, 2020, addressing a global audience spanning 13 time zones for the half-day meeting. The GEOHealth program supports institutions in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC) in advancing their environmental and occupational health work through research, research training, informing policy development, and outreach activities. The program sponsors seven regional Hubs – Bangladesh, Caribbean, Eastern Africa, India, Peru, Southeast Asia, and West Africa – through two linked awards, one to an LMIC research institution and the other to a U.S. institution that manages the training.
The meeting began with two plenary sessions, with presentations by grantees covering the connection of research to practice and policy and the impact of environmental and occupational exposures on children’s health, followed by a round of virtual poster presentations.
The first plenary showcased the successful pipeline from science and research to policy development. In Thailand, research and clear communication of that work to stakeholders by the Southeast Asia Hub contributed to a national ban on paraquat and chlorpyrifos. The West African Hub also emphasized engagement with stakeholders to advance data-driven public health policies such as management of e-waste. In India, the Hub supported an integrated training and research program on ambient air pollution and cardiometabolic health to enhance skills among environmental health researchers and to bolster the science with the goal of informing future transportation, planning, and energy policies.
One of the three concurrent breakout sessions focused on training models and capacity building in the area of environmental and occupational health. The session provided a platform for grantees to share lessons learned from their regional GEOHealth Hubs. Some of the short-term strategies adopted by multiple Hubs include training workshops and courses, many offered online, on the topic of environmental and occupational health.
The East African Hub has created a strong network of neighboring countries, including Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, and Ethiopia, that facilitates country-to-country training and workshops for university students and faculty. The India Hub, in collaboration with Harvard University, is developing training modules covering environmental and occupational issues relevant to LMICs, such as pesticides, air pollution, and heavy metals, that ultimately will be integrated into Master of Public Health programs in the region.
As part of a longer-term capacity-building approach, strengthening degree programs and mentorship has proven successful, particularly when international students are able to embed themselves in universities and laboratories in the U.S. Grantees are also fostering collaborative activities across Hubs to leverage existing resources.
The Caribbean Hub, for example, has built domestic capacity by supporting several cohorts of Master of Public Health degree candidates from the Anton de Kom University of Suriname. 97% of graduates from the program, which was founded with assistance from the Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, have found employment with the government.
Another example of a successful training and mentorship partnership, the West Africa Hub provides an intensive research training program for students from Ghana, Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, and other regional countries to spend four months at the University of Michigan or McGill University. Students have the opportunity with this immersion experience to gain important research skills, such as statistical analysis and scientific writing, and to broaden their research network to include international investigators.
“Environmental and occupational risk factors are a major contributor to the global burden of disease, disability, and premature death,” Christine Jessup, Ph.D., Program Officer for the FIC Division of International Training and Research commented. “The research and research training activities of the GEOHealth hubs and the collaborative activities across the network of hubs are enhancing local capacity to understand these problems, identify interventions, and inform changes to policy and practice in order to improve health.”
Environmental Racism Collection: Exposure and Health Inequities in Black Americans
The NIEHS Environmental Health Perspectives offers a new collection of resources, the Environmental Racism Collection: Exposure and Health Inequities in Black Americans on the experience of Black Americans and systemic environmental racism. In the U.S., a history of discriminatory practices has resulted in the disproportionate siting of hazardous facilities and landfills in disadvantaged neighborhoods often inhabited by minorities. The disparities in community environmental exposures are reflected in the health disparities of Black Americans facing a higher burden of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. The Environmental Racism Collection assembles a variety of resources ranging from original research articles to commentaries to “shine a light on racism as not just a social determinant of health but a public health crisis”. This important message resonates on a global level; earlier in 2020 as hundreds of thousands took to the streets to highlight the injustices of systemic racism in the U.S., similar marches took place around the world in solidarity for the shared experience of poor and minority communities.