Summary of a Workshop on the Development of Health Models and Scenarios: Strategies for the Future

By Ebi, Kristie L.; Gamble, Janet L. | Environmental Health Perspectives, March 2005 | Go to article overview

Summary of a Workshop on the Development of Health Models and Scenarios: Strategies for the Future


Ebi, Kristie L., Gamble, Janet L., Environmental Health Perspectives


A workshop was convened in July 2003 by the Global Change Research Program, Office of Research and Development at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, to review current strategies for developing human health models and scenarios in the context of global environmental change, particularly global climate change, and to outline a research agenda that effectively characterizes the interplay of global change with the health of human populations. The research agenda developed at the workshop focused on three issues: a) the development of health models, b) the development of health scenarios, and c) the use of health models and health scenarios to inform policy. The agenda identified research gaps as well as barriers to the development and use of models and scenarios. This report summarizes the workshop findings. Key words: climate change, health models, health scenario development, policy. doi:10.1289/ehp.7380 available via http://dx.doi.org/[Online 7 December 2004]

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There is growing interest in modeling the potential health impacts of global environmental changes and in exploring, through scenario development, how current health risks could evolve with changes in environmental, technologic, economic, and societal conditions. Developing health scenarios can provide important insights into the complex relationships between humans and their environment and thus inform policy approaches to sustainable development, including intergenerational equity. Accordingly, the Global Change Research Program in the Office of Research and Development at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency convened a workshop on 21-22 July 2003 in Washington, DC, to develop a research agenda for the development of health models and scenarios that characterize the interplay of global environmental change, particularly global climate change, with the health of human populations. Workshop participants had expertise in public health, climate change, modeling, scenario development, and policy development.

Models describe, quantitatively and/or qualitatively, relationships among various drivers of human health outcomes. For example, models can project disease burdens when input parameters change, such as the potential health consequences of changes in prevailing weather patterns. Scenarios, on the other hand, do not project whether a particular event, such as a disease outbreak, might occur. Scenarios paint pictures of possible or plausible futures and explore the different outcomes that might result when current conditions change (e.g., future socioeconomic and technologic developments, developments in medical care, population demographics, policy interventions). There is a strong interplay between models and scenarios. Scenarios can be used as inputs into models to project changes in the intensity and range of climate sensitive diseases, and models often underlie scenarios. For example, the Standardized Reference Emission Scenarios incorporate linked models of human economic activity and their resulting anthropogenic emissions with models of the earth system responses to the forcings from these emissions (Nakicenovic et al. 2000). Health models have been coupled with these scenarios to project disease burdens under different assumptions (e.g., Campbell-Lendrum et al. 2003; Hayhoe et al. 2004; Van Lieshout et al. 2004).

Both models and scenarios are needed to further our understanding of the potential impacts of climate variability and change on human health and well-being. A better understanding of the potential impacts can facilitate the development and implementation of effective and efficient adaptations that reduce negative impacts and take advantage of any opportunities that arise. In addition, this understanding can inform policy-relevant analyses of the possible consequences of mitigation policies. This is particularly critical because past scenario studies did not adequately incorporate population health issues. …

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