How Well Does Climate Change and Human Health Research Match the Demands of Policymakers? A Scoping Review

Article excerpt

BACKGROUND: In 2008, the World Health Organization (WHO) Member States passed a World Health Assembly resolution that identified the following five priority areas for research and pilot projects on climate change and human health: health vulnerability, health protection, health impacts of mitigation and adaptation policies, decision-support and other tools, and costs of health protection from climate change.

OBJECTIVES: To assess the extent to which recently published research corresponds to these priorities, we undertook a scoping review of original research on climate change and human health. Scoping reviews address topics that are too broad for a systematic review and commonly aim to identify research gaps in existing literature. We also assessed recent publication trends for climate change and health research.

METHODS: We searched for original quantitative research published from 2008 onward. We included disease burden studies that were specific to climate change and health and included intervention studies that focused on climate change and measured health outcomes. We used MEDLINE, Embase, and Web of Science databases and extracted data on research priority areas, geographic regions, health fields, and equity (systematic differences between advantaged and disadvantaged social groups).

DISCUSSION: We identified 40 eligible studies. Compared with other health topics, the number of climate change publications has grown rapidly, with a larger proportion of reviews or editorials. Recent original research addressed four of the five priority areas identified by the WHO Member States, but we found no eligible studies of health adaptation interventions, and most of the studies focused on high-income countries.

CONCLUSIONS: Climate change and health is a rapidly growing area of research, but quantitative studies remain rare. Among recently published studies, we found gaps in adaptation research and a deficit of studies in most developing regions. Funders and researchers should monitor and respond to research gaps to help ensure that the needs of policymakers are met.

KEY WORDS: climate change, environmental policy, health policy, public health, world health. Environ Health Perspect 120:1076-1082 (2012). http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1104093 [Online 13 April 2012]

Although the risks of global climate change have been recognized for some time, interest in the specific implications of climate change for human health has grown rapidly over the past few years, with notable examples including a special issue on climate change and health published by The Lancet (Costello et al. 2009) and a declaration by the World Medical Association (2009). In 2008, World Health Organization (WHO) Member States passed a World Health Assembly (WHA) resolution recognizing the importance of climate change for human health, and calling for stronger commitment by Member States to address climate change--related health threats (WHA 2008). The Member States specified five research priorities that should be supported, which was an unusual and important recommendation for such a resolution to contain. The recommended priorities were

* Health vulnerability to climate change and the scale and nature thereof

* Health protection strategies and measures relating to climate change and their effectiveness, including cost-effectiveness

* The health impacts of potential adaptation and mitigation measures in other sectors, such as marine life, water resources, land use, and transport in particular, where these could have positive benefits for health protection

* Decision support and other tools, such as surveillance and monitoring, for assessing vulnerability and health impacts and targeting measures appropriately

* Assessment of the likely financial costs and other resources necessary for health protection from climate change (WHA 2008).

These five priority areas were further explored in a 2009 global consultation, which resulted in further elaboration of the research needed within each priority area (WHO 2009). …