By Andy Morse, Kathryn Bowen, Kristie L. Ebi, and Giles B. Sioen
Researchers and practitioners from many fields need to collaborate to protect and promote health and well-being in a warming world with a growing population.
Individuals and communities have been damaging the environment since pre-history, which in turn has damaged the health of humans, animal, and plants through air pollution, land use changes, and climate change). Observed changes in the environment can increase adverse health outcomes and lead to the emergence of new diseases in areas where they were previously absent. To make matters worse, most often it is the communities that are least responsible for the environmental damages that feel the greatest impacts on their health. These impacts are on physical and mental health and wellbeing; the importance of both are stated in the WHO definition of health: "a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity."
Global environmental changes and the resultant health impacts affect our ability to work and enjoy life - ultimately reducing our life span, compromising our ability to look after our families and friends, and reducing the production of food and goods. These and other impacts can affect the development of new technologies to reduce and eventually eliminate the use of fossil fuels.
On 20-23 May 2019, with the organizational support of the Future Earth secretariat, over forty researchers and other stakeholders met in Taipei City as guests of Academia Sinica to frame a transdisciplinary research agenda to safeguard human, animal, and plant health into the future. Participants brought their skills and knowledge together to set up a plan to improve collaboration across national boundaries. Further, the group agreed upon a governance structure and activities to facilitate the promotion and protection of human health in the face of changes in climate, environment, and socioeconomic factors. This collaboration aims to bring about change that moves from incremental to transformational.
A fundamental area of discussion was the massive global transitions underway, including urban, energy, technological, demographic and socio-economic transitions. The Health Knowledge-Action Network (Health KAN) is a platform for the broader health community to articulate bold solutions and pathways to facilitate health and wellbeing over the coming decades. One thing is certain: in the short term, we have to protect and preserve this Earth that we share.
Deforestation in Brazil (UN Photo 1989)
“Health is a central concern for global change and for promoting resilience”, says Kristie Ebi, co-chair of the Health KAN development team. This is why a wide variety of topics need to be discussed within this Knowledge-Action Network. Among others, we initiated discussions on the following issues:
- Sustainable health and well-being of humans and animals are an important focus in the face of ongoing climate change, degradation of our land and oceans, and loss of biodiversity & ecosystem services. These changes can increase health burdens, including disease transmission.
- Food security and nutrition are vital for human health and well-being, and will be key challenges this century, especially for the most vulnerable population groups.
- Water security, sanitation, and waste management will continue to be important issues, particularly in Asia and Africa.
- Disasters and extreme events are increasing across the globe, including rapid and dynamic shifts (e.g. pandemics) and longer-term trends (e.g. droughts).
- The health risks of environmental pollution in air, water, land, and oceans need to be monitored and assessed.
- OneHealth is working across human and animal systems to understand shared infections, as well as nutritional and health impacts on human livelihoods and trade of animals. We need to widen the scope to include societal, financial, and policy issues.
- Data are widely available but there are challenges to accessing and utilizing them because they are often outside of the public domain, difficult to process, non-uniform in formatting, or gathered in different languages.
- Transdisciplinary research is needed to integrate knowledge and expertise to, for example, develop and implement early warning and response systems, conduct risk assessments, and inform effective policy development to both strengthen human health and protect and preserve our natural environment.
- Transitions in economic, demographic, social, energy, land use, urban, water, sanitation, technological, and health treatment/healthcare systems can affect health and well-being positively and negatively, and need to be tracked and evaluated.
- The contributions of the Health KAN to Science-Based Pathways is an important integrated topic.
The formation of the Health KAN provides the global health community with an opportunity to make bold steps for collective action, to translate research into practical solutions, and to prepare for the health risks of global environmental change. You can read more about and contribute to the Health KAN mission by joining the Future Earth Open Network here.
The Health KAN is currently calling for nominations by 9 September 2019 to form a Steering Committee to transition from the Development phase to a fully operational Knowledge-Action Network. Interested individuals are invited to self-nominate.