The 2015 Rockefeller Foundation-Lancet Commission on planetary health final report, “Safeguarding Human Health in the Anthropocene Epoch,” begins: “Far-reaching changes to the structure and function of the Earth’s natural systems represent a growing threat to human health.” Although published four years ago, those words still hold true. The shifts in weather patterns that climate change is driving are already causing issues with food security, vector-borne diseases like Zika, and problems with heat itself.
A challenge as broad as the human health effects of climate change needs a similarly broad response, one not confined to health and climate researchers. Future Earth, a research and innovation organization with a global reach, has responded by forming the Health Knowledge-Action Network (Health KAN).
Health KAN will bring health researchers together with other natural and social scientists, health and environmental policy experts, and leaders in government, the private sector, and civil society to promote research for a better, integrated understanding of the complex interactions between a changing global environment and human health. “It recognizes that global change is, in fact, global,” says Kristie Ebi, with the University of Washington’s School of Public Health and a member of the Health KAN development team. “If we want to be effective and efficient with our resources, we need to have collaboration around the world.”
The new organization was officially launched in Taipei in May 2019, following two years of planning discussions. The transition from the development phase to full operational phase will include further discussions on the development of a strategy for the next three years, Health KAN’s agenda, stakeholder roles, and funding.
Ebi says that Health KAN will fill what has been a noticeable void in the climate research community. “You can meet people at meetings, but there’s no institutional organization for people to regularly discuss where we are with respect to global change and health research and practice, where we need to be to protect and promote population health, and the resources and capacity building needed to increase the resilience of health systems,” she says. “This is a way to help facilitate, at a global scale, discussions of things like what are the priority research agenda items that we see worldwide, not just the ones we see within a particular country.”
Health KAN will create a space where research can be better coordinated, so that different groups of scientists do not inadvertently duplicate their efforts. “You don’t want to have three groups doing essentially the same thing,” Ebi explains. She notes that this is particularly critical at a time when research funding is so limited.
Importantly, Health KAN will forge links between the health and climate sectors and other researchers. These links will be reflected in the forthcoming research agenda. “It goes beyond thinking just about climate change,” says Ebi. “The research agenda considers a range of issues at the intersection of global change and health, including changes in land use and biodiversity loss altering infectious disease risks; air quality and health from the perspective of energy sources and technologies; food systems and nutrition in a changing environment; disasters, extreme weather, and climate events and their impacts on health and infrastructure; and urbanization and health.”
As the Health KAN moves into operation, there will be an open call for self-nominations for the science steering committee. Ebi says “We really look forward to contributing to furthering understanding of how global environmental change is affecting our health, and using that understanding to develop useful, use-able, and used information to increase the resilience of populations around the world.”
Christine Chumbler is a communications professional with more than 20 years experience in writing, editing, and publications design. She has expertise in every stage of publication production, from concept and writing to editing, design, and printing. In the mid-1990s, she was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malawi. This experience led to a career using her writing and editorial skills with international development and foreign policy organizations, many of which worked to directly support USAID’s efforts. She has worked in a freelance capacity full-time since May 2016. Chumbler has a Master’s in journalism from the University of Michigan and a Bachelor’s in environmental studies from the University of California, Santa Cruz.