World Environmental Health (WEH) Day: A reflection on the event at CIEH (26th Sept 2013)

WEH day has been celebrated across the world by EH practitioners and communities every year since the inaugural event in Sydney in 1988. This year the focus was on emergent EH risks to environmental health.

Professor Tim Lang talked on the need to reconstruct the vision for public health since whilst many health indicators are improving (life expectancy, neonatal deaths, etc) many of the indicators for wider world health are declining: water stress, biodiversity loss, rise of non-communicable diseases, climate change. This is also exacerbated by cultural changes around food, for example ultra processed foods and consumption for example of throw away clothes when cotton is the biggest user of water world wide.  You can read more about Tim’s views in his paper with Geof Rayner (http://www.bmj.com/content/345/bmj.e5466) and in their joint book Ecological Public Health available from Earthscan/Routledge.

Janet Russell , CIEH president spoke about international dimensions of EH and the International Federation of Environmental Health declaration on health equity  http://www.ifeh.org/docs/ifeh_policies/policy10.pdf and drew attention to the first student led conference in Sept 2015 in Portugal. 

Dr Jolyon Medlock, Head of Medical Entomology and Zoonoses Ecology (PHE) gave a fairly stark talk on new threats to UK health from exotic mosquitoes and tick borne illnesses. He raised some good points about policy affecting prevalence. PHE have created tick and mosquito maps to gain understanding of numbers, environments and geology. What was interesting is that there can be a conflict in competing goals, for example in creating wetlands which can influence prevalence of mosquitoes and ticks.  Some of the solutions appear to be related to the geology of the area with this impacting on moisture retention which in turn aids in enhancing biodiversity but in reducing ticks etc. He also pointed to the conflicts between infectious diseases and biodiversity goals and interesting position for EHPs responsible for the former but affected by the latter.

Professor Hemda Garelick  focused on the risks arising from antimicrobial resistance from a historical, medical and biological perspective. She highlighted the behaviour of cells through mutation, preventing entry of antimicrobials, and internal use of enzymes.  This was followed up by myself looking at the impact of antimicrobial resistance on our practice.  A personal reflection is that those positions of policy such as irradiation may need to change in light antimicrobial resistance and how bigger issues which would initially be beyond the scope of our practice are going to impinge of our future roles and protection of public health.

Finally Joy Ofremu, a recent graduate of both environmental health and the masters in occupational health and safety at Middlesex University talked about the risks from biomass fuels in occupational settings.  She pointed to the significant risks to health from particulate matter and the double exposure from home and work were impacting on health.  Worthy of note is that she was the first recipient of the Xavier Bonnefoy student grant that enable this study to be undertaken.

As a group (EHRnet) who are trying to encourage the embedding of a research culture within the profession my reflections on the day were that this was a great success.  There were 65 attendees who I think took away a greater understanding of a range of future risks that the profession will have to consider and how these might impact on practice but were also given a model for public health that is more inclusive and sustainable.  All credit to the organisers (International Special Interest Group of CIEH).

 Review by Alan Page

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