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Climate Change and Health Initiative to Expand Research, Build Resiliency

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A woman and child in a small boat paddling through flood waters
Credit: Athawit Ketsak/Shutterstock

Climate change is a global process that affects human health in a variety of complex ways. Wildfires, heat waves, hurricanes, floods, and other climate-related weather events can result in illness, injury, and death. Indirect health threats are cause for concern, too. For example, changes in temperature and rainfall can affect the lifecycle of mosquitoes that transmit diseases such as malaria and dengue fever, thereby paving the way for new outbreaks.

Environmental disruptions worsened by climate change can reduce air quality, diminish water resources, and increase exposure to higher temperatures and pathogens. As a result, we see greater health risks in susceptible individuals such as children, the elderly, the poor, and people with underlying conditions, both in America and around the world.

For decades, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and other NIH institutes and centers (ICs) have advanced important research into how climate change affects health. But expanding knowledge in this area and addressing other key challenges will require much more collaboration. The time is now for an all-hands-on-deck scientific effort—across NIH and the wider biomedical research community—that spans many interconnected disciplines and fields of inquiry.

That is why I am excited to join forces with several other IC directors to launch the NIH Climate Change and Health Initiative. By working together, NIH institutes and centers can harness their technologies, innovative research approaches, and talent to advance the science of climate change and health. Through this timely effort, we will promote resilience in vulnerable communities because our research will help them to understand, prepare for, and recover from climate-related health challenges.

Our Strategic Framework outlines why it is important to go beyond studying the health effects of climate change. We must involve impacted communities in solutions-focused research that empowers them, health care practitioners, and health and social services agencies to reduce climate-related health risks. By generating scientific evidence for public health action, we can use a health equity approach to boost climate resiliency among at-risk groups, whether in the U.S. or low- and middle-income countries.

At the heart of the initiative is a push for transdisciplinary, team-based science that boosts training, research capacity, and community engagement. Our immediate goals are to use existing grant programs to strengthen research infrastructure and enhance communication, internally and externally.

Also, with dedicated support from several ICs and the Office of the Director (OD), NIH is funding a research coordinating center and a community engagement program. The coordinating center will help NIH scientists collaborate and manage data. And the community engagement program will empower underserved populations by encouraging two-way dialogue in which both scientists and community members learn from each other. That inclusive approach will improve research and mitigation efforts and reduce health disparities.

In addition, several Notices of Special Interest are now open for applications. The NIH invites scientists to submit research proposals outlining how they plan either to study the health effects of climate change or develop new technologies to mitigate those effects. Also, with OD support, a Climate and Health Scholars Program will launch later this year. Scientists working on important research will share their expertise and methodologies with the NIH community, spurring opportunities for further collaboration.

Going forward, any additional support from the White House, Congress, and the public will allow NIH to further expand the initiative. For example, we urgently need to test novel interventions for reducing heat stress among agricultural workers and to scale up early-warning systems for climate-related weather events. There is also opportunity to use laboratory-based and clinical methodologies to expand knowledge of how climate factors, such as heat and humidity, affect key cellular systems, including mitochondrial function.

To fill those and other research gaps, we must draw on an array of skill sets and fields of inquiry. Therefore, our Strategic Framework outlines the importance of supporting adaptation research, basic and mechanistic studies, behavioral and social sciences research, data integration, disaster research response, dissemination and implementation science, epidemiology and predictive modeling, exposure and risk assessment, and systems science. Tapping into those areas will help us tackle climate-related health challenges and develop effective solutions.

In recent years, in-depth reports and assessments have provided conclusive evidence that climate change is significantly altering our environment and impacting human health. Although the science of climate change and health has progressed, much work remains. We hope that the Climate Change and Health Initiative expands scientific partnerships and capacity throughout NIH and across the global biomedical and environmental health sciences communities. Greater collaboration will spur new knowledge, interventions, and technologies that help humanity manage the health effects of climate change and strengthen health equity.

(Note: The Initiative’s Executive Committee includes the following IC directors: Richard Woychik, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences [chair]; Diana Bianchi, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development; Gary Gibbons, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; Roger Glass, Fogarty International Center; Joshua Gordon, National Institute of Mental Health; Eliseo Pérez-Stable, National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities; and Shannon Zenk, National Institute of Nursing Research.)

Links:

Environmental Health Topic: Climate Change (National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences /NIH)

NIH Climate Change and Health Initiative (NIH)

NIH Climate Change and Health Initiative Strategic Framework (NIH)

Research Coordinating Center to Support Climate Change and Health Community of Practice (NIH)

Research Opportunity Announcement: Alliance for Community Engagement—Climate Change and Health (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute / NIH)

Notice of Special Interest: Climate Change and Health (NIH)

Notice of Special Interest: Innovative Technologies for Research on Climate Change and Human Health Small Business Technology Transfer (R41/R42 Clinical Trial Option) (NIH)

Notice of Special Interest: Innovative Technologies for Research on Climate Change and Human Health, R43/R44 Small Business Innovation Research (R43/R44 Clinical Trial Optional) (NIH)

Note: Dr. Lawrence Tabak, who performs the duties of the NIH Director, has asked the heads of NIH’s Institutes and Centers (ICs) to contribute occasional guest posts to the blog to highlight some of the interesting science that they support and conduct. This is the 14th in the series of NIH IC guest posts that will run until a new permanent NIH director is in place.

5 Comments

  • Hannah E. Carrier Morgan says:

    Sustainable permaculture! Whole food, plant based diet. Better transportation and get rid of fossil fuels!
    Right now. It’s almost too late.

  • Barb Bartkowiak says:

    It is absolutely necessary to encourage and support climate change science in order ” to study the health effects of climate change or develop new technologies to mitigate those effects.” We need to learn what changes can work in these difficult climate problems and develop significant methods to boost those changes quickly. We don’t have that much time.

  • Niranjan Kumar, PhD, EMTM says:

    This is a great initiative and it is an important area to understand affects of climate change on human and animal health, as well as on Agriculture. My question is how to bring together environmental experts and biomedical research experts to address various issues described in this article? In which way NIH supports this public and private partnership?

  • Milagros R. Elia, MA, APRN, ANP-BC says:

    Wonderful and vital initiative! However, direct care clinician education around climate change (particularly related to heat vulnerability) to assure patients and community safety is sorely needed. This information must concurrently be provided by healthcare systems and professional bodies to ensure the current workforce is up-to-date with the knowledge necessary to effectively plan, implement and assess the patients health.

  • Fahmida pathan says:

    We see the result of climate change across the world. People are responsible for this. It’s too late already. If we are not concerned about this immediately, nature will kill us one day.

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