Whether at breakfast, a roundtable discussion or the Collaborating Centre launch event, Dr. Maria Neira emphasized her commitment to preventing adverse environmental impacts on health.
Photo: Steve McCaw
The World Health Organization has stronger North Carolina connections, thanks to the new NIEHS WHO Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health Sciences. Dr. Maria Neira, director of WHO’s public health and environment department, visited NIEHS recently to launch the center, engaging with institute staff and leadership, as well as with representatives from local universities and other organizations interested in global health.
In spite of a network of Collaborating Centres, comprising more than 700 institutions in 80 countries worldwide, this is the first WHO Collaborating Centre established within NIH. Partnership between WHO and NIEHS is nothing new—their joint efforts to advance public health go back nearly 30 years.
NIEHS and NTP director Dr. Linda Birnbaum pointed out that the NIEHS focus on global health began with its second director, Dr. David Rall, who served from 1972 to 1990. “He’s the one who said you can’t do environmental health unless you do it from a global perspective,” Birnbaum said. Formalizing the relationship between the two organizations provides new opportunities for both.
The Collaborating Centre works to translate research findings into public health interventions in five priority areas: children’s environmental health, climate change and human health, developmental origins of health and disease, electronic waste and indoor air pollution.
Throughout her visit, Neira stressed the power of preventive health measures to ease the burden of noncommunicable disease. “We are going back to the core of primary prevention, in the hopes that by reducing exposure, we can dramatically reduce the global burden of disease, 25 percent of which is due to environmental exposures,” she said.
Underscoring the value of the long collaboration between the two organizations, Neira drew a humorous analogy to marriage. “Couples living together for 30 years sometimes divorce,” she said, followed by laughter. “But in this case, we are going for a ‘remarriage—it’s quite exceptional and provides a solid basis for our future collaboration.”—Kelly Lenox