Nations Partner to Invest $21 Million for Research Hubs in Developing Countries

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Posted: Monday, October 19, 2015 9:23 pm

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The National Institutes of Health and other U.S. and Canadian partners are investing $20.9 million dollars over five years to establish seven regional research and training centers in low- and middle-income countries. The Global Environmental and Occupational Health Hubs will consist of multidisciplinary groups of researchers and partner organizations collaborating on common research and training topics that address environmental and/or occupational health issues.

Pesticide use, household and outdoor air pollution, mining hazards and other occupational and environmental risk factors cause almost one quarter of the world’s deaths, according to the World Health Organization. The greatest burden of disease caused by these exposures occurs in LMICs, where there is limited capacity to study the links between these risk factors and illness. In addition, more than two million workers around the world die every year due to occupational injury or related ailments, costing the global economy billions of dollars, as reported by the International Labor Organization.

Each hub will be supported by a pair of five-year awards, one to an LMIC lead institution for research on key topics of regional importance and another to a U.S. institution to oversee relevant research training. The hubs are intended to become internationally recognized centers for the collection, management, synthesis and interpretation of data on environmental and occupational health. Together the seven hubs will form the GEOHealth Network, a platform to build research leadership in environmental and occupational health in LMICs, and foster the exchange of knowledge and use of evidence to inform policies.

NIH’s Fogarty International Center is coordinating and partially funding the awards, in collaboration with NIH partners, the National Cancer Institute and National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Also providing support is the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Canada’s International Development Research Centre is contributing to the funding of research led by LMIC scientists. The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves is also participating in the GEOHealth program by offering supplemental funding for research and training focused on household air pollution.

“We know that air and water pollution, pesticide exposure, climate change and other environmental and occupational risk factors contribute to the growing burden of noncommunicable diseases in LMICs,” said Fogarty Director Dr. Roger I. Glass. “These research hubs are designed to develop a critical mass of scientists who can discover how these exposures trigger diseases, identify effective interventions and spur policy changes that will improve health.”

The overall goals of the GEOHealth Hubs are to strengthen environmental and occupational health-related research collaborations, accelerate scientific infrastructure development, enhance research training, create relevant advanced educational curricula and outreach material, support research needed to address environmental and/or occupational exposures and inform nationally relevant policy development in LMICs.

A hub in India will focus on air pollution and developing the scientific expertise to study the unique characteristics of exposures in that country, while a center in Bangladesh will address household air pollution, climate change and occupational health in the garment worker industry. Another hub will be located in Peru to develop scientific capacity and support research on air pollution and climate change, including activities with scientists in the neighboring countries of Ecuador, Bolivia and Chile.

Neurotoxins related to mining and agricultural development and their impact on maternal and child health throughout the Caribbean will be examined from a hub based in Suriname. Meanwhile, scientists at a center in Thailand will investigate pesticides commonly used in agriculture across Southeast Asia to see if they act as endocrine disrupters, increasing the risk of metabolic syndrome and associated diseases such as diabetes, stroke and heart disease.

A hub based in Ethiopia will develop spokes in Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda to study air pollution, climate change and occupational health related to temperature. Finally, research and training in West Africa will focus on health threats from electronic waste, gold mining and transportation-related ambient air pollution, led from a center in Ghana.

SOURCE: National Institutes of Health

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