HIH staff attend the Planetary Health Alliance’s inaugural meeting

Planetary health. “What is that?” - you might be asking.

Debates continue about the primary drivers of change in Earth systems, but few can argue that the disruption of our planet’s interacting physical, chemical, biological, and human processes are taking their toll, and that toll includes an urgent threat to global human health. Environmental issues can no longer be seen as ‘not my problem’ as evidence grows illustrating the connections between accelerated environmental change and the direct impacts adversely affecting human health. Regardless of how we have previously viewed news on the environmental front, and our role in it, the time has come for everyone to pay attention. Your health depends on it.

From right to left: Jeff, Bethany, and I with our poster at the PHA Annual Meeting.

And this, my friends, is where we bring in the Planetary Health Alliance (PHA). Last month, Jeff Wyatt (right in photo), a member of the HIH Board of Directors, Bethany Kois (center), HIH’s Research Director, and I were honored to represent the organization at the first annual PHA conference in Boston, MA.  This meeting brought together researchers, educators, health practitioners, and international non-profits all who are embracing the integrating approach and want to expand the dialogue and better understand how environmental change is impacting human health, whose health is at greatest risk and how we can mitigate and prepare for these changes.

According to the PHA, their focus is on research, education, and policy and to:

  • Identify gaps and limitations in conservation and medical research;
  • Understand the scale of humanity’s ballooning ecological footprint and the extent to which these global changes are likely to drive humanity’s global burden of disease in coming years;
  • Inform decision-making in land-use planning, environmental conservation, and public health policy realms

Introductory remarks from Sam Myers, PHA Director and Senior Research Scientist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

In year one, with an impressive constituency of over 60 academic institutions, NGOs, and other partners, PHA aims to shift behavior toward addressing planetary health concerns. Strategic action toward that end includes building open access educational materials and teaching resources that look at health from a global and holistic perspective and pushing researchers from different fields to re-examine the questions as they work together to expand our understanding of the world. Further, this group understands the importance of taking the knowledge and creating a clear message necessary to influence policymakers to listen and look at systems change from an integrated solutions approach.

Health In Harmony is ecstatic to see this movement take flight. We are proud to be a member of the Alliance and to share in the workload as the goals of PHA align with the ethos of our work, where human and environmental health are intrinsically linked, needing one to have the other.  We agree that these global challenges need to be tackled from an interdisciplinary approach, no longer working in silos of research, conservation, medicine, and so on. It is gratifying to ‘find our people’ and strengthen connections with this like-minded, academically diverse group who recognize the value and innovation of the vision Health In Harmony has been putting into action on the ground for over ten years.

The Alliance, funded by a three-year grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, is based at the Harvard University Center for the Environment in partnership with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Learn more here.

With friends of Health In Harmony, Jeremy Pivor (left) and Latha Swamy (right)!

P.S. I want to give a shout out to these dynamic friends of HIH, Jeremy Pivor (far left) and Latha Swamy (far right) who have both donated numerous hours of time and skill to help us better understand what makes Health In Harmony’s project ASRI work. They too attended the PHA conference and continue to share our passion for planetary health. We look forward to keeping you both in the circle!

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About Kari Malen | View all posts by Kari Malen

Kari is the International Program Development Director at Health In Harmony, and is based in Taos, NM.