Environmental Health Indicators
Development of a tool to assess and monitor the impacts of climate change
To develop a core set of environmental health indicators (EHIs) to assess, quantify, and monitor the impacts of climate variation and change on food- and water- borne diseases in New Zealand, in particular, salmonellosis and cryptosporidiosis.
New threats to human health, particularly the emergence and spread of diseases, are becoming major issues associated with components of global environmental change. Contributing to these human health threats are the roles that climate variability and change, and extreme weather events, play in altering disease risk. The roles of climate variability and change are important as the processes will compound the already significant burden of infectious diseases (eg, vector-, food- and water- borne disease) on national economies and public health. Therefore, authorities need to be able to assess, anticipate, and monitor human health vulnerability to climate variability and change, in order to plan for, or implement action to avoid or reduce negative consequences.
Environmental health indicators provide information about a scientifically based linkage between the environment and health, enabling the conversion of data to information by summarising these complex relationships and presenting them in a form that is more easily interpreted by the end-user (eg, policy makers). Therefore, EHIs can be used as a tool to assess, quantify and monitor ecosystem health vulnerability from a sustainability perspective and can be utilised to inform adaptations and policy development and measure the effectiveness of climate change adaptation and mitigation activities. In addition, they provide baseline information for assessing and monitoring temporal and spatial variability of risks with respect to climate change, enabling projection scenarios (eg, epidemics, cost/benefits of interventions) of how the current situation may evolve. Monitoring of human disease surveillance data has the potential to act as a warning system for ecosystem disruption and may be used to identify interventions for the preservation of ecologic and human health. Such an approach means that interventions can be applied higher up the causal chain than would have been possible based on environmental monitoring or health surveillance alone. Implementation of such interventions can improve ecological well-being which in turn will reduce the resultant burden of disease in humans.
The Driving force-Pressure-State-Exposure-Effect-Action (DPSEEA) framework is used to develop and structure the EHIs covering each component of the DPSEEA framework to describe the causal chain/network for the selected environmental health issue of concern (Figure to the right). This framework provides a systematic approach that aids interpretation of complex environmental health issues by demonstrating links or relationships between the environment and human health (Hambling et al. 2011). The DPSEEA framework was designed to support decision making on actions to reduce the burden of disease by describing environmental health problems from their root causes through to their health effects, and by identifying areas for intervention. It is a hierarchical approach that links measurable indicators to environmentally caused diseases, and displays the various levels of action that can be undertaken to reduce environmental health impacts. Analytical EHIs that quantify the impact at each step along the causal chain are particularly useful as they highlight where the most effective interventions can be aimed to protecting human health.
Hambling T, Weinstein P, Speldewinde P, Slaney D. (2013) Environmental Health Indicators: a tool to assess and monitor human health vulnerability and the effectiveness of interventions for climate change [PDF, 403 KB]. The New Zealand Climate Change Conference 2013, 4–5 June 2013, Palmerston North, New Zealand. [403KB PDF]
Hambling T, Weinstein P, Slaney D. (2011) A review of frameworks for developing environmental health indicators for climate change and health. International Journal of Environmental Research & Public Health 8(7):2854–28 http://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/8/7/2854/ (external link)
Hambling T, Weinstein P, Slaney D. (2010) Climate Change Environmental Health Indicators: devising a tool to measure and monitor human health vulnerability and the effectiveness of interventions for climate variability and change. International Climate Change Adaptation Conference, 29 June–1 July 2010, Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia http://www.nccarf.edu.au/conference2010/archives/265 (external link)
Hambling T. & Slaney D. (2007) Environmental Health Indicators for New Zealand: Annual Report 2007. Institute of Environmental Science & Research Ltd, Porirua, New Zealand http://www.surv.esr.cri.nz/ehi/ehi_reports.php (external link)
http://ec.europa.eu/health/indicators/other_indicators/environment/index_en.htm (external link)
http://www.euro.who.int/en/what-we-do/data-and-evidence/environment-and-health-information-system-enhis (external link)
http://www.who.int/globalchange/en/index.html (external link)