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The Year in Environment and Health

Improving environmental outcomes, health systems and advancing planetary health.

Human health is at the heart of all of the SDGs. And a clean environment is a human right.

We are part of nature and we are also active players in the planet’s ecosystems.

Having access to nature has a positive impact on our mental and physical health. And having a rich biodiversity provides immeasurable benefits for planetary health and human benefit.

When we are in good health we contribute well to our communities, have the resilience to improve our environment, and can share sustainable solutions that benefit the health of many people.

Now is the time for leadership and a clear transition to a low carbon economy for the benefit of our environment, our health systems and our planetary health.

At MSDI, we have committed to the development of the health care professionals across all leadership levels in this area and amongst all our work we are developing an education program with our colleagues from the Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences.

Leader in planetary health and dialogue

The Australian health system contributes 7% to our national carbon footprint and also has to deal with the mental and physical health implications of climate change.

In light of these challenges, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians commissioned MSDI to review health system responses to climate change. The review was led by Associate Professor Peter Bragge, Director of the MSDI Evidence Review Service (ERS). Established in 2021 to centralise review methods across MSDI, the ERS helps people make better decisions and good policy based on research evidence and other relevant knowledge about policy and practice. The report identified 34 relevant reviews highlighting evidence-based interventions including energy efficiency measures, recycling in operating rooms, telemedicine and changes to anaesthetic gases. The report recommended a national strategy on climate change and health and a commitment to net zero health systems by 2040, which was endorsed by ten medical colleges. Following its launch on Nov 30 2021, the report received media coverage on SBS and was the topic of an editorial in the British Medical Journal. This reflects increasing urgency amongst peak medical bodies to address climate change, with RACP President Professor John Wilson also publishing an editorial in The Canberra Times.

In 2021, we also drew attention to the health implications of climate change in respected and global medical publications. Professor Tony Capon, Director of MSDI, along with Monash University colleague Professor Yuming Guo, were contributing authors to the 2021 Medical Journal of Australia–Lancet Countdown on health and climate change in Australia. Over 180 people attended the launch webinar which was made up of academics, decision-makers, media, industry consultants and many interested individuals. The webinar inspired 14 news articles and led to five media interviews. In the Lancet Heat and Health series, Tony Capon and Adjunct Senior Research Fellow Dr Selina Lo presented solutions to address the physiological heat strain that underlies the negative health effects of heat extremes and hot weather.

We also build on research and dialogue. At MSDI, our Revitalising Informal Settlements and their Environments (RISE) program is trialling innovative and sustainable water and sanitation solutions with more than 7,000 households in 24 informal settlements in Fiji and Indonesia. Solutions include nature-based technologies like constructed wetlands, which use natural filtration processes to treat wastewater on-site, while improving stormwater management, flood protection, and increased water security and climate resilience. Despite the distancing challenges of a global pandemic, the team is set to complete the Fiji demonstration site in 2022. And with households consenting on final designs and construction plans, the first six communities in Fiji and six in Indonesia are set to receive RISE’s water and sanitation upgrades next year, with the remaining six in each country to be upgraded after a two-year monitoring period.

Learn more about our work in this space:

Health System Response to Climate Change

Medical Journal of Australia–Lancet Countdown on health and climate change in Australia

Lancet Heat and Health series

RISE

Behaviour change expertise

We’re putting our behaviour change expertise to work to help people co-exist better with bushfires in the landscape.

Victoria is one of the most bushfire-prone areas in the world. Working with the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP), the Country Fire Authority (CFA), Emergency Management Victoria (EMV), Forest Fire Management Victoria (FFMVic), local government and other agencies, our BehaviourWorks Australia team devised a list of 29 things that people can do in each season to prepare themselves. The BehaviourWorks Australia team then identified key behaviours to keep Victorians fire safe by surveying 3,000 community members and 90 experts. BehaviourWorks Australia is now supporting agencies to test and monitor the impact of three direct community interventions, which aim to reduce bushfire risk in Victoria.

Learn more about our work in this space:

Safer Together

Case study

RISE scientists lead pathogen analysis and genomic sequencing in Fiji and Indonesia

four screens in a video call, two groups in medical settings and two individuals

Local scientists in Indonesia and Fiji are uncovering new links between environments and human health.

A new training program using cutting-edge equipment for molecular analysis is seeing Fijian and Indonesian RISE scientists lead the way in their countries in uncovering links between environments and human health.

Laboratory technician Revoni Vamosi and a group of RISE Fiji scientists have begun training in the latest techniques to analyse samples of soil, water, animal faeces and human stools to detect a diverse range of faecal pathogens and environmental contamination.

For Vamosi, the training benefits not just himself, but the whole Fiji team. “It’s very fulfilling for our community fieldworkers to work with the residents of these settlements and collect samples, and then for the scientists in the team to be the ones to analyse them in our lab here – we get exposure to the whole process, from collection, to processing and analysis,” he says.

Indonesian scientist, A Zulkifli AS, also known as Pak Zul, is training to analyse samples that his colleagues have collected from 12 informal settlements in Makassar, Indonesia. For Pak Zul, being able to effectively communicate about diseases in informal settlements is just as important as the results themselves.

“For me, I’ve really enjoyed learning how to convert large, complex datasets into visual tools like graphs and scatterplots,” Pak Zul explains.

“Charts and graphics with different colours are a much more effective way to communicate findings about contaminated environments – and if it’s easier to understand, it’s easier to support better disease management.”

Both Vamosi and Pak Zul agree that together, the equipment, software and training will all boost Fiji and Indonesia’s research capabilities in the long-term. Vamosi says, “Being upskilled, we can go on to share this knowledge with researchers from other universities and health representatives here.”

MSDI Capability: Build capacity and empower leadership by building the skillsets and mindsets for effective action, enabling people to lead from where they are.