Thursday, March 13, 2008

Thinking globally, acting locally

The Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) is working to support state health agencies to shore up awareness and capacity around climate change. And the demand for support is proving to be considerable!

In its first major thrust into the climate change arena, ASTHO in 2007 adopted a position statement outlining the actions we should take to support state-based public health activity on climate change. This stance met with widespread enthusiasm. ASTHO has since supported its State Environmental Health Directors (SEHD) group in its efforts to focus on climate change. The workgroup spent its early days immersing itself in the technical side of climate change, but most recently has worked with ASTHO on strategies to raise awareness among fellow public health workers.

Recently, ASTHO commenced a series of monthly webinars on climate change that delve deeper into specific public health issues impacted by climate change. ASTHO’s inaugural webinar, “Climate Change and Changing Vectors,” examined trends, models and predictions for vector-borne diseases. Discussion was led by Dr. Ali Khan, deputy director of CDC's National Center for Zoonotic, Vector-borne and Enteric Diseases, and Dr. Kenneth Gage of CDC's Division of Vector-Borne Infectious Diseases. Rather than solely providing a scientific snapshot, Drs. Khan and Gage also presented relevant policy perspectives that helped stir up a healthy discussion with participants.

A testament to the demand for more information, the inaugural webinar received 75 direct callers, including state health officials, senior deputies and many other health agency staff. We learned anecdotally that some health agencies were broadcasting the webinar to meeting rooms, crowded 10 deep! Further illustrating the appetite for information has been the many requests for access to the slides presented during the webinar.

Demonstrating the desire to actively pursue an agenda to help mitigate climate change, the ASTHO-SEHD workgroup continues to broaden its interests, which now include smart growth and the role state health agencies can play in community planning decisions. The future lineup of webinars will tackle climate change impacts on heat events, water and food, among other issues. Further information on the webinar series is available by visiting ASTHO’s Web site.

Gino D. Marinucci, MPH
Senior Director, Environmental Health
Association of State and Territorial Health Officials

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