Internationally Speaking: Two “First Time” Events Catalyze Stronger Focus on Health and Environment

written by Elise Miller, MEd
Director 

Elise Miller, MEdAugust is usually a quieter month, but two “first time” international events related to environmental health drew a number of colleagues and CHE members together.

One was the inaugural retreat of the International Society for Children’s Health and the Environment (ISCHE). It was held on Whidbey Island, north of Seattle, and dovetailed with the annual scientific conference of the International Society of Environmental Epidemiologists. Though ISCHE was launched in 2011, this was the first time the Society convened a group of researchers and health professionals to discuss the “Future of Children’s Health” and ISCHE’s potential role in that future. Nine countries were represented, and CHE was actively involved in planning and facilitating the gathering.

Notably, the retreat was not filled with the usual scientific presentations on emerging research. Instead, discussions were peppered with five-minute “ignite” talks on various trends, challenges and opportunities in the field. What was striking for many who attended was the noncompetitive and supportive atmosphere that allowed for open conversations about ‘big picture’ ideas and issues—from emerging research methodologies to ethics. Participants, including those who were instrumental in launching the children’s environmental health field as well as new investigators from different disciplines, seemed hungry to have time to converse in a retreat setting, As one attendee noted, “We so rarely get together with colleagues without the competitiveness and ‘one upmanship’ I often see at scientific conferences. Really important conversations are happening here that don’t elsewhere.” Given the plethora of ideas that emerged, the ISCHE Board will need to take some time to sift through and prioritize next steps, but as was clear from the energy generated at the meeting, ISCHE is poised to make valuable contributions to the field in the coming years.

The other significant event was the first-ever World Health Organization (WHO) Health and Climate Conference, held in Geneva August 27-29. More than 200 government ministers, health practitioners, and experts in climate change and sustainable development, including a number of CHE partners, convened to discuss and prioritize strategic actions to promote health and resilience while mitigating climate change. As Dr. Margaret Chen, WHO Director-General, said in the opening plenary, “The evidence is overwhelming: climate change endangers human health. Solutions exist and we need to act decisively to change this trajectory.” Genon Jenson, executive director of the Health and Environmental Alliance (HEAL), will highlight some of the conference proceedings on CHE’s upcoming partnership call, “Climate Change and Health: What’s New and What to Do?” to be held on Thursday September 18th. Three other leading experts in the field will also present  the latest research and its implications for human health internationally, nationally, and regionally. Please join us.

Even if you were deeply engaged in meetings or other activities this past month, I hope you also enjoyed some well deserved down time with friends and family. Please stay healthy this fall as you continue to devote your life energy to making our world healthier for all.

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