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National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

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The GHHIN Hosts Virtual Masterclass Series on Human Health and Heat

By Meredith Clemons

Electronic temperature display outside building
(Photo courtesy of GHHIN Website)

The Global Heat Health Information Network (GHHIN), a solutions-based network dedicated to improving capacity to protect global populations from the avoidable health risks of extreme heat, hosted four virtual Masterclasses during June and July. These expert-led training sessions provided in-depth examinations of the practical skills necessary to face health threats from heat. Highlighted topic areas included operational thresholds for heat early warning systems, urban planning and governance for heat, economic valuation of heat health costs, and Heat Health Action Plan development.

The GHHIN’s Capacity-building Commitment

A collaborative network led by the WMO-WHO Joint Office for Climate and Health, in collaboration with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the GHHIN is comprised of government agencies, non-government organizations, academic institutions, and international partners, such as Red Cross Red Crescent, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM). The GHHIN prioritizes global capacity-building in order to prevent heat-related health events on multiple time scales. While not a formal member of GHHIN, NIEHS supports its activities through engagement in the Global Change Research Program and through funding research on heat-related illness and climate change.

“One of GHHIN’s main goals is networking and capacity-building across sectors, agencies, and disciplines, in terms of response and reduction of risk, to move the field ‘further, faster, together’. That capacity-building piece plays a huge part,” said Juli Trtanj, a GHHIN Steering Committee member and the One Health and Integrated Climate Extremes Research Lead at NOAA.

The masterclass format enables the exchange of actionable information from field experts to scientists, researchers, and decision-makers. “We really wanted these to be deeper and more focused sessions,” said Hunter Jones of the GHHIN Steering Committee and NOAA Climate Program Office. “Whether you are the decision-maker who is creating the Heat Action Plan, or you are actually setting the early warning thresholds, or you are trying to do economic evaluation of the outcomes, what do you need to know? How can the GHHIN network help you go a bit further and show you where the resources are and put you in touch with experts who do this work?”

The 2020 Masterclass Series

The WHO reported over 166,000 deaths related to extreme temperature from 1998 to 2017. As climate change progresses, more people will be exposed to extreme heat in the coming decade, leading to more preventable deaths and heat-related illnesses. Trainings like the GHHIN masterclass series increase the likelihood that public health systems in a variety of settings can predict and prepare for heat events in the future. Each of this summer’s 90-minute masterclasses focused on best practices in a unique heat health application area and featured heat health experts from around the world. “We’ve tried hard to get good coverage of the way that heat is experienced and the way that different countries are adapting around the world,” Jones emphasized.

The first masterclass, held June 9, highlighted the intersection of meteorology and public health with a focus on developing and improving operational thresholds for heat early warning systems.

The second masterclass, held June 16, highlighted current innovative urban planning practices and research and emphasized the importance of resilience in communities facing heat threats. Participants ultimately selected strategies to increase community engagement in planning for extreme heat.

The third masterclass, held on June 30, focused on economic valuation of heat health impacts and interventions. Participants discussed how to quantify the health costs of adverse heat events and the economic and health benefits of heat adaptation interventions.

The final session, Developing an Effective Heat Health Action Plan for Your City, was held on July 21 and focused on community preparedness and response for extreme heat events. Participants were encouraged to integrate preparedness and response activities into a single, collaborative plan and include necessary partners across sectors. More information about the information covered during each session can be found on the GHHIN website.

A Virtual First

The 2020 series marked the first-ever virtual GHHIN masterclasses. Historically hosted at the in-person GHHIN Global Forum on Heat Health, this year’s masterclasses transitioned online after the planned 2020 Global Forum in Copenhagen was postponed due to COVID-19. “We started the masterclasses at the Forum in person last year, and they were quite well-received,” Trtanj said, “so we transitioned them, in an experimental way, to a virtual mode to see if that worked.”

Though unanticipated, the change in format created an opportunity to eliminate in-person participation barriers, like travel costs and time limitations, in order to reach a wider audience. “We’re getting feedback from people in countries all around the world,” Jones noted. “We were of course disappointed that we wouldn’t be able to hold these [sessions] in person but being able to join from anywhere around the world using technology that many people have has definitely made this more accessible.”

Looking Forward

In addition to its commitment to training and capacity-building in the virtual world, the GHHIN has plans to resume in-person programming when deemed safe. The Global Forum planned for 2020 in Copenhagen has been rescheduled for 2021, and in the longer term, the GHHIN is developing a rotational heat health training program for younger professionals, including both graduate and post-doc students and, potentially, mid-career professionals. The Network also plans to launch a completely updated website, refine guidance and resources such as the Heat and COVID-19 Information Series, and increase the capacity to connect experts to decision makers across the globe.