From Vilnius, Lithuania, to Las Vegas, Nevada!
Fabian, Nelson, Journal of Environmental Health
NEHA President Mel Knight and I are both participating in the meetings and Congress of the International Federation of Environmental Health (IFEH) as I write. This meeting and what we are learning from our involvement in it offer me a platform for sharing some thoughts on international environmental health, your association's deepening engagement of it, and the rewards that will be available to you because of all of this.
To begin--as a testament to our interest in international environmental health, some 20-odd years ago NEHA joined with like associations from several other countries to jointly found IFEH. IFEH is essentially an association of associations (i.e., the environmental health associations of various nations). Today, the institutional membership of IFEH stands at some 39 countries and counting.
More than anything else, IFEH offers a desperately needed forum for the leadership of the worldwide environmental health community to come together both to explore issues of mutual concern and to affirm the importance of this line of work worldwide. In fact, as I have participated in IFEH discussions, my appreciation for the issues and people of environmental health has done nothing but grow.
I have long been stimulated by the stories of NEHA members who have found amazing ways under difficult circumstances to solve pressing problems. As I continue to meet environmental health professionals from all over the world, that appreciation has grown exponentially. In my many interactions with the environmental health professionals from around the world that I am meeting here in Vilnius, Lithuania, I am taken in by that same "fire in the belly" and environmental and public health ethic. It is compellingly clear to me that this same fire and ethic drives the work of our brothers and sisters in lands far away and on issues that range from the similar (like food safety) to the different (like the provision of safe water in nations in Africa).
IFEH serves to provide the world's environmental health community with a forum for our collective voice and action. At this meeting in Vilnius, for example, we debated a policy position that related to social and environmental justice. We also combined forces to move forward with a special series of disaster training workshops in the Asian Pacific region of the world. In addition, we are together working on finding ways to bring environmental health values and perspectives into the activities and policies of the World Health Organization, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the United Nations.
IFEH also offers a unique opportunity for the world's environmental health practitioners to learn about environmental health issues from around the world and to develop personal relationships within our worldwide community of colleagues. This is done through the tradition of declaring a global or IFEH "Congress" meeting every two years. IFEH manages a bidding process that offers each of its association members the opportunity to host such a Congress. The bid winner then makes arrangements to host the IFEH business meetings as an adjunct to their annual meeting.
Here in Vilnius, for example, our NEHA delegation spent two days in IFEH business meetings. That was then followed by the annual conference of the Lithuanian Union of Hygienists and Epidemiologists--this country's IFEH member.
As with all previous IFEH meeting hosts, the Lithuanian association altered its annual meeting to feature much more of an international agenda. The conference design also comes replete with enhanced opportunities for the attendees of this conference to meet and interact with others.
What is especially nice about this experience is that it has drawn participants from some 45 countries from around the world. I've had incredibly stimulating conversations with environmental health colleagues from more nations than I have the space here to enumerate. …