World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Centres enable WHO to extend its reach and bolster efforts to improve human health around the world. Building on over three decades of collaboration, NIEHS was designated as a WHO Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health Sciences in September, 2013. The Collaborating Centre provides a focal point and resource for the Institute to fulfill its strategic goals in global environmental health and help translate research findings into effective public health interventions. The Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), the WHO Regional Office for the Americas, helps coordinate the activities of WHO Collaborating Centres in the Americas.
What Does the NIEHS Collaborating Centre Do?
As described in the Centre’s Terms of Reference, it assists WHO by promoting international cooperation among environmental health research institutes, promoting global awareness of emerging issues in environmental health, and supporting education and training efforts in environmental and occupational health sciences.
In September 2017, NIEHS was redesignated as a WHO Collaborating Centre, and a new workplan concentrating on four focus areas of collaborative effort was established:
- Children's Environmental Health
- Health Consequences of Weather and Climate Extremes
- Environmental Factors and Non-Communicable Diseases
- Chemical Risk Assessment Network
Included in the 2017 work plan are cross-cutting themes—subjects that touch on more than one focus area—such as e-waste, indoor air pollution, and the developmental origins of health and disease (DOHaD). NIEHS is also expanding its work in emerging health areas, such as chronic kidney disease of unknown origin (CKDu).
Children's Environmental Health
Extensive research into children’s environmental health at NIEHS has increased understanding of the unique vulnerability of children to harmful environmental exposures and helped to guide the development of protective measures for children in the United States and around the world.
NIEHS founded and hosts the Network of WHO Collaborating Centres for Children's Environmental Health. Working with other Collaborating Centres as well as other leading research institutions, the Network aims to build evidence and capacity in CEH, coordinate and conduct collaborative research, raise awareness of CEH issues and develop interventions to reduce childhood environmental exposures.
NIEHS’s CEH workplan includes continued support for the WHOCC CEH Network as well as collaborative publications and events. Partnering with researchers in the CEH network, NIEHS staff have co-authored multiple CEH focused publications, including Children’s Health in Latin America: The Influence of Environmental Exposures and Children's Environmental Health in South and Southeast Asia: Networking for Better Child Health Outcomes.
NIEHS has co-sponsored:
- The Asia-Pacific Regional Meeting on Children’s Environmental Health (CEH) in 2019.
- A training session on the Adverse Environmental Exposures and Childhood Lung Health at the Congress Internationale on Pediatric Pulmonology in Madrid, Spain in 2018.
- The 2017 South Asian Children’s Environmental Health Workshop .
Health Consequences of Weather and Climate Extremes
In 2018, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Ph.D. declared that climate change was already having a serious impact on human lives and health. “It threatens the basic elements we all need for good health—clean air, safe drinking water, nutritious food supply and safe shelter,” he said, “and will undermine decades of progress in global health. We can’t afford to delay action any further.”
NIEHS works with WHO to increase awareness of the link between climate change and human health and to help inform health ministries and health professionals around the world about how to protect people from health threats related to climate change.
The new NIEHS WHOCC workplan includes a focus on educating health professionals and further collaboration on health system resilience in the face of climate change.
- NIEHS has developed a curated Climate Change and Human Health Literature Portal, which is a knowledge management tool for locating the most relevant scientific literature on the health implications of climate change.
- The Institute has also developed educational materials for secondary school classrooms, health professionals and public health students, both in the US and around the world, based on the US Global Change Research Program’s 2016 Climate Health Assessment and the Fourth National Climate Assessment.
- NIEHS is supporting the Understanding Climate and Health Associations in India (UCHAI) initiative. In order to address severe environmental health problems, UCHAI has created several communication platforms, developed curricula and educational materials, and shaped a community of practice to action in India to protect human health.
- The NIEHS Collaborating Centre is partnering with the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) and Tulane University to develop critical reports and a roadmap for enhancing health system resilience in the region.
- NIEHS is serving as an advisor to the WMO Integrated Health Information Science and Services initiative and the implementation of the Joint WHO-WMO Workplan on Health, Climate and Environment.
- NIEHS served on the Oversight Committee for the CAPHA 2017-8 State of Public Health in the Caribbean Report: Climate and Health: Averting and Responding to an Unfolding Health Crisis.
- Since 2015, the NIEHS has supported the Understanding Climate and Health Associations in India (UCHAI) Initiative. UCHAI aims to bring academicians, researchers, practitioners and students from diverse fields including climate science, environment, public health, public policy, social development and urban planning through a resource network and community of practice in India. UCHAI has organized workshops including the U.S.-India Partnership for Climate Resilience Workshop on Climate and Health in 2018 and hosts routine webinars and seminars.
- In September 2015, NIEHS co-hosted the “Workshop on Health Care Facility Climate Change Resiliency ” in September 2015 in Montreal.
- NIEHS, in collaboration with WHO, hosted a side event, “Health Adaptation in the US and Around the World,” at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 19th Conference of the Parties in Poland in November 2013.
Environmental Factors and Non-Communicable Diseases
Over the past several decades, the global burden of disease has been shifting from mostly communicable to non-communicable diseases. Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) now cause 60% of all global deaths. Most major global health interventions for NCDs focus on changing lifestyles and adult behaviors. NIEHS research is building understanding of how environmental insults early in life (from conception through early childhood) can impact health and disease risks, not just later in childhood but decades later into adulthood. Included in this focus area are a number of cross cutting environmental health issues where NIEHS is active.
Chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown Origin/Etiologiy (CKDu)
There has been a significant increase in the global burden of chronic kidney diseases of unknown origin. CKDu is increasingly recognized in specific geographic or agricultural regions in both Central America and South Asia. NIEHS is working with WHO and WHO regional offices around the world to explore current research, possible exposures, outcomes and to help understand this terrible disease.
Developmental Origins of Health and Disease
Studies suggest that harmful exposures that occur early in life, while tissues and organs are developing, increase the risk of disease later in life. Sometimes these risks carry over into future generations. This concept is called the developmental origins of health and disease, or DOHaD. As a founding member of the U.S. DOHaD society, NIEHS funds research into this important topic and is actively engaged with international partners to better understand the impacts of early life exposures.
It is becoming increasingly important to understand how exposure to the growing amount of global e-waste affects human health. Electronic devices, such as computers, cell phones, and televisions, contain a variety of metals and chemicals that can harm health not only for people recycling devices and extracting raw materials, but also for those living near these recycling efforts. NIEHS works with WHO to raise understanding of the importance of controlling exposures to e-wastes among health practitioners and decision makers and to better understand effective methods to prevent harmful e-waste exposures.
Household Air Pollution
An estimated 3 billion people use biofuels, such as dung, brush, and wood as their main source of energy for cooking and heating. Exposures to smoke from burning biomass cause nearly 4 million deaths per year, as well as other chronic health problems, including eye diseases and COPD. Women and young children are disproportionately affected by this pollution. NIEHS and WHO are partnering to raise awareness about the urgency of reducing exposures to household air pollution by promoting research and implementation science that can lead to improved cookstoves and effective fuel and stove replacement programs around the world.
NIEHS provides support to organizations such as the Clean Cooking Alliance and other participants in the Household Air Pollution Intervention Network (HAPIN) Trial, whose working group is co-chaired by the director of NIEHS. The HAPIN study tests the viability of improving household pollution through the increased use of liquified petroleum gas stoves.
- In 2019, NIEHS supported the Third International Workshop on Chronic Kidney Diseases of Uncertain/Non-traditional Etiology in Mesoamerica and Other Regions.
- In June 2018, NIEHS partnered with the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) to host the Chronic Kidney Diseases in Agricultural Communities workshop. The workshop brought together nephrologists, pathologists, epidemiologists, toxicologists, and other researchers to address clinical, social, and scientific complexities of CKDu.
- NIEHS supported and attended the 2015 and 2017 Early Avoidable Environmental Exposure meetings at WHO.
- NIEHS hosted The Prevention, Intervention Strategies E-Waste meeting in 2017 in New Delhi, India.
Chemical Risk Assessment Network
More than 25% of the global burden of disease is thought to be linked to environmental factors. In an effort to better evaluate and minimize exposure to toxic chemicals, WHO created the WHO Chemical Risk Assessment Network in 2013. Its first meeting, held in Paris in 2014, was supported by NIEHS.
The network aims to bring together representatives of government agencies, academics and researchers, and nongovernmental organizations to address the public health risks posed by chemicals. Network participants collaborate on projects across borders, provide a platform to disseminate new findings and support the development of training focused on chemical risk assessment.
- NIEHS has played an important role in the WHO Chemical Risk Assessment Network since its inception.
- NIEHS supports the Chemical Risk Assessment Network through the creation of network communications materials aimed at sharing the latest research with a global audience.
- NIEHS staff members are active members of network working groups focused on capacity building, systematic review and emerging risks.