Understanding the links between human health and the environment

Two years ago this month we launched Our Planet, Our Health, an initiative to increase understanding of the complex links between the environment and human health. Here, we give a snapshot of some of the recent work published by researchers we’ve funded.

A child watches as the day's tuna catch is prepared for sale in Honiara, Solomon Islands.

Credit: Natalie Behring / Panos

A child watches as the day's tuna catch is prepared for sale in Honiara, Solomon Islands. Over the last year, many fisheries in the region have experienced very low catch rates.

Between 2014 and 2015 we funded 15 pilot projects that bring together collaborators from all over the world and span disciplines from economic and social sciences to epidemiology and ecology.

The range of these projects reflects the many challenges research needs to address if we are to better understand the impact we are having on the ecosystems essential for life.

How does climate influence infectious disease dynamics?

The incidence of infectious diseases can be sensitive to climate conditions due to a number of factors. The survival patterns of vectors such as mosquitos and ticks may be altered, and environmental contamination can expose people to water-borne infections.

Jessica Metcalf from Princeton University investigated the potential mechanisms that link climate and infectious disease.

This paper identifies the current data available to tackle these issues, and highlights the potential benefit of integrating climate science research with infectious disease biology.

Does aquaculture support the needs of nutritionally vulnerable nations?

Christopher Golden and his team from the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health are investigating whether the current pattern of aquaculture – the farming of marine organisms – can support the nutritional needs of vulnerable nations.  

Around 2 billion people around the world rely on farmed fish production to meet their basic needs, but these fisheries are currently grappling with unsustainable harvesting, habitat destruction and the effects of climate change like ocean acidification.

The researchers outline strategies that could allow aquaculture to provide lasting nutritional security without exacerbating existing inequities in access to food and land resources.

Testing the health outcomes of reducing water salinity

Many people in coastal areas of Bangladesh have to drink slightly salty water due to infiltration of ground water by rising sea levels. This has considerable health implications – it’s associated with high blood pressure in adults and pre-eclampsia in pregnant women.

Mahbubar Rahman and his team are investigating whether the manual recharge of surface or rainwater to aquifers could be a potential solution.

In this paper they describe the design of their investigation, which will be the first study to assess the health impact of an environmental intervention to reduce the salinity of groundwater in Bangladesh.

Read a recent commentary by Dr Mahbubur Rahman outlining the need to explore the potentially adverse health effects of drinking rain water.

Many of the Our Planet, Our Health projects have recently received further funding to expand the scope of their research and translate findings into policy.

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