The Trottier Institute for Sustainability in Engineering and Design (TISED) and McGill Global Health Programs have launched a collaborative seed grant pilot initiative to address challenges to planetary health. We support health-related solutions at the nexus between disease, rapid environmental degradation and climate change caused by unsustainable industrialization, urban growth and resource consumption practices. This funding supports interdisciplinary projects - with researchers leading from both the Faculty of Medicine and the Faculty of Engineering. The larger goal is to build a community of interdisciplinary researchers at McGill working in global environmental health to increase positive impact in the world. These collaborations will have the potential to change lives across the globe, especially in underserved regions where poverty and poor healthcare dominate.
Why are challenges important?
The biggest environment-related burdens to global health are often observed in developing countries. Poorer regions and communities tend to suffer most from the health impacts of unsustainable growth and development due to the combination of the environmental factors with other aspects of the social and physical environment. This initiative will fund research efforts focused on these underserved regions. The World Health Organization estimates that roughly 25% of the disease burden in the developing world is due to environmental factors. We are seeking interdisciplinary research teams dedicated to researching the world's most pressing environmental health challenges by developing simple, practical solutions to health problems related to two major environmental influences: air and water pollution.
A safe water supply and good water management system are critical for human and environmental health. According to U.N. estimates, 700 million people around the globe currently suffer from a scarcity of clean water, and that number is predicted to spike to 3 billion by 2025. The impacts of the scarcity are dire; the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences states that 1.9 million people, primarily children, died in 2004 from inadequate access to clean water and sanitation. This issue is not limited to developing/low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) – 73% of First Nation water systems in Canada are at significant risk of contamination and close to 120 communities across Canada are on boil-water advisories. Use of contaminated water by industrial pollution, inadequate sanitation, and damaging agricultural practices are important drivers of poor health and rising costs of health care around the world, especially in developing regions.
Air quality has a comparably significant impact on planetary health. In many developing countries, considerations of air pollution emissions in urban planning, energy production and transport are still not common practices. Air pollution from urban and industrial centres, forest/brush fires, trash burning and improper indoor fuel use is a major source of respiratory and various non-communicable diseases. Additionally, indoor air pollution from cooking and heating with solid fuels such as wood, dung, and charcoal, lead to the deaths of 2 million people each year, of which women and children are most affected.
McGill has a critical mass of affiliated researchers and educators who are qualified to address these challenges. In a recent survey, we identified that there were at least 50 researchers working on air and water pollution issues and that one-third of the researchers hold “Chairs” that help in accelerating and expanding their research and emphasizing the research excellence - including eminent Canada Research Chairs, James McGill Chairs, and William Dawson Scholar Chairs. These researchers would have the potential to save real human lives.
Significant and continued support will help build a sustained research initiative to provide the motivation and capacity to take up a grand challenge around sustainability frameworks for urban, rural and industrial growth that ensure direct and measurable improvements to health and quality of life. The research will not only provide direct knowledge and best practices, but will help educate and train students who may choose to work in academia, non-profits, and government - expanding the impact even further. The research will inform curriculum development, provide summer research and other experiential learning opportunities.
Each seed grant would require researchers from both the Faculty of Medicine and the Faculty of Engineering to seek additional funding from external agencies to grow the initiative. We envision that the externally funded research initiatives will involve the participation of other Faculties at McGill as well as various centers and institutes including the Brace Center for Water Resources Management, among others. Partnerships with Engineers without Borders, Médecins Sans Frontières and other indigenous and international non-governmental and governmental bodies will be a cornerstone to this initiative.