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ESSP Joint Projects
Global environmental change and human health

The Challenge

Human activities increasingly affect the structure and functioning of ecosystems. In turn, these changes can influence the entire chain of factors involved in the infectious disease cycle: pathogens, vectors, reservoir species and human populations. Seemingly unrelated human activities can thus have serious consequences for human diseases, both infectious and non-infectious.

The scientific community recognises the growing need to better understand the multi-faceted and complex linkages between global change (including climate change, land and sea use change, global biodiversity loss and change, global socio-economic change) and human health. However, as yet, little systematic research has been undertaken on the many important aspects of this topic. Nor has there been any sustained attempt to establish an international research community.

Prof. Ulisses Confalonieri, National School of Public Health, Brazil
Prof. Tony McMichael, Australian National University, Australia
Co-Chairs, Global Change and Human Health
Planning Team

Photo: WHO/P.VIROT   Photo: J.Koella   Photo: WHO/P.VIROT
© WHO / P. Virot
© J. Koella
© WHO / P. Virot

ESSP’s Response

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With its wide network of scientists involved in global environmental change (GEC) research, ESSP is well positioned to take up this challenge. This Joint Project is being developed in partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO).
The Project's main research goals are to:

  1. Identify and quantify health risks posed by GEC, now and in the reasonably foreseeable (scenario) future
    1. Develop methods of modeling/understanding tradeoffs between economic development, environmental change and human health
    2. Take account of the roles of culture, social institutions and technology choices in modulating health risks, affecting vulnerability and influencing policy response
  2. Describe spatial (geographic, inter-population) and temporal differences in health risks, to better understand vulnerabilities and priorities for interventions
  3. Develop adaptation strategies for reducing health risks, assess their cost-effectiveness, and communicate results (esp. to decision-makers)

These objectives will be achieved by articulating the implementation strategy for this Joint Project around the following integrated themes that examine the relationships between Global Environmental Change and Human Health:

  1. Atmospheric composition changes and their health impacts
    1. Climate change and health
    2. Stratospheric ozone depletion and health
  2. Land Use/Land Cover changes and human health issues
  3. Infectious disease and Global Environmental Changes
    1. Land use/land cover change and vector/rodent-borne infectious diseases
    2. Changes in human-animal relationships and emergence/spread of zoonoses
    3. Food-borne, water-borne and other infectious diseases
  4. Food-producing systems and health
  5. Urbanization and health
  6. Vulnerability and adaptability: formal assessment of the situational and constitutional susceptibility of the at-risk community or population, and of the social and institutional resources available for reducing that susceptibility and coping with adverse health impacts.

Next Steps

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This new ESSP Joint Project on GEC and Human Health was successfully launched at the ESSP Open Science Conference in Beijing, 9-12 November 2006. The Science Plan and Implementation Strategy of this ESSP joint project was presented in Beijing and a series of consultations to provide input to this document is on-going. Please send comments on this document to the ESSP Coordinator, Martin Rice, by 23rd February 2007. The intent of the science plan is to build a large international community around this agenda, and engage people in contributing to it. In addition to this, please think about how your work or the projects you are involved in could contribute to this ESSP project on Global Environmental Change and Human Health, and send expressions of interest, ideas for workshops or new collaborative research, to Martin Rice. Implementation activities are currently being coordinated by Martin Rice, ESSP Coordinator.

Last updated: 12 January 2007

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