Good health and wellbeing improves the quality of life beyond the individual – they spill over to families, communities and regions. The Alliance’s bold mission to promote health equity means supporting efforts to ensure that all people have full and equal access to opportunities that enable them to lead healthy lives.
We’ve started to tackle this grand challenge by specializing in cross-disciplinary, applied research to understand and seek solutions, and to translate research to engage policy makers and decisionmakers. We do this by bringing together Johns Hopkins faculty and students, as well as partners and communities around the word to integrate scientific, analytic and creative capabilities to advance health equity worldwide.
Our Healthier World team identified four thematic areas where an integration of expertise and perspectives is needed to address difficult and inter-dependent social problems. This intends to focus research and innovation on areas where Johns Hopkins University is best positioned to harness its expertise to make impact. These priority areas include: food & nutrition security, healthy environments, gender equity & justice, and transformative technologies & institutions.
Each thematic area addresses underlying issues that exacerbate health inequity around the world. They are also connected to each other; the AHW will support work both within and especially across thematic areas. The four priority areas are introduced below.
Over the next few months, we'll also take a closer look at each; in this article, we focus on Healthy Environments, its importance and how it interfaces with other thematic areas.
Introducing Our Four Thematic Areas
1. Food & Nutrition Security
The Food & Nutrition Security team focuses on linkages between food systems and environments, and dietary diversity and quality to maintain nutrition and health in an era of rapid urbanization, globalization and growing inequality.
Their research integrates perspectives and methods from public health, nutritional sciences, food security and agriculture, ethics and economics to address nutritional inequities in underserved communities worldwide.
2. Healthy Environments
The Healthy Environments team explores how the impacts of global climate change and environmental degradation compounds inequalities in people’s health and nutrition.
Their research identifies and promotes mitigation strategies to reduce carbon emissions and their harmful effects on the environment and health, particularly in poor and marginalized communities.
3. Gender Equity & Justice
The Gender Equity & Justice team examines impacts of gender-based power disparities, oppression and discrimination on health equity.
Their work develops, implements and evaluates initiatives to advance gender equity and justice for more healthy, peaceful and prosperous societies, and to train the next generation of leaders.
4. Transformative Technologies & Institutions
The Transformative Technologies & Institutions (TTI) team explores ways to design, market, produce, deliver and support health care services and products, emphasizing quality of care and incorporating efficient use of resources.
They apply community perspectives and systems thinking to improve processes, infrastructure and institutions that fosters successful new technologies for reducing health inequities.
A Closer Look at Healthy Environments
For healthy people, we need a healthy environment. The air we breathe, the water we drink, the climate, and the soil in which we grow food all affect our health. Many diseases, conditions and challenges in quality of life stem from environmental conditions. Climate scientists have well-documented that global environmental change – encompassing changes in climate, ecosystems, biodiversity, hydrological systems, food systems, and water quality – are being felt at local and global levels.
Dr. Peter Winch, AHW Thematic Lead for Healthy Environments, stresses that “global health must involve not just preventing and treating diseases, but also caring for the ecosystems upon which we depend for our health and nutrition.”
Healthy Environments, like other AHW thematic areas, cut across many fields and require multidisciplinary collaborations to understand and find solutions for fostering environments conducive to good health. This challenge calls for multiple, purposeful actions to assist communities most impacted by inequities that result from environmental degradation and accumulating greenhouse gases.
Key Areas within our Healthy Environments theme
Under the leadership of Dr. Winch, the team will examine several areas:
Sustainable and readily adoptable alternatives for reducing indoor and outdoor air pollution and their impacts on health. For instance, clean cookstoves use less fuel and reduce emissions – and in turn, reduce the burden on women and children for accessing fuel, as well as reduce their exposure to the harmful emissions, unlike traditional cookstoves.
The Alliance recently funded pilot research to improve the technology of cookstoves to be cleaner, healthier, and affordable.
Another funded research team is using community-based participatory approaches to plan actions for asthma treatment in Lima, Peru.
Further details on these research awards are available here.
Retrofitting existing health facilities, particularly in hard to access areas, to be more self-sufficient. The Healthy Environments team will examine ways facilities can adopt clean energy, access and manage water and more efficiently use resources. This approach integrates with the Transformative Technologies & Institutions thematic area.
Understand and intervene in health, nutrition, and agricultural impacts of degrading land in fragile regions. Rising sea levels are spilling saltwater onto agricultural lands, and as a consequence, changing the soil’s salinity level to a point where it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to grow produce. Coastal Bangladesh is an example of a fragile region where agricultural impacts also affect health and nutrition for a large population. This focus will work in tandem with the Food & Nutrition Security thematic area.
Develop new program models for combining community health and environmental sustainability. Poor communities are more likely to live in precarious and unhealthy environments, and have fewer resources to devote to adaptation approaches to be resilient to a changing environment. The Healthy Environments team will examine and identify gaps in existing models and develop new or enhanced approaches for addressing these challenges.
Further Efforts Within JHU Community
Closer to home, Winch looks to collective actions by the entire Johns Hopkins community.
The university’s Office of Sustainability as been implementing projects and educating faculty, staff and students to reduce the university’s carbon footprint.
The Center for a Livable Future has been taking a holistic approach to the environmental and health impacts of food production and consumption.
The Bloomberg American Health Initiative supports training and leadership for practitioners and researchers focused on environmental challenges and other areas affecting the health of Americans.
The Alma Ata 40 Campaign is an effort led by David Bishai, Professor of Population, Family and Reproductive Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health to reinforce the value of primary health care, an approach recognized as vital in the Health For All, Alma Ata Declaration of 1978.
This month, Dr. Winch describes the ways the Alliance’s thematic areas, including Healthy Environments, draw from international voices such as the Alma Ata Declaration.
Winch and team hope to build on these successes and strengthen Johns Hopkins’ collective knowledge and motivations for a series of actions to promote healthy environments for all, particularly for those who have been marginalized politically, socially and economically.
United Nations Environment Programme. (2012). Global Environment Outlook: Environment for the future we want. Progress Press. http://web.unep.org/geo/sites/unep.org.geo/files/documents/geo5_report_full_en_0.pdf
World Health Organization. “Global Environmental Change” http://www.who.int/globalchange/environment/en/
Peter Winch is the Thematic Leader for Healthy Environments at the Alliance for a Healthier World (AHW). As Professor in the Social and Behavioral Interventions Program in the Department of International Health at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, he teaches courses on qualitative and formative research and applied medical anthropology. His work aims to: 1) improve the health of mothers and children in areas where access to health facilities is poor or non-existent, and 2) develop and evaluate behavior change interventions and health system responses to global environmental threats.