University of Newcastle joins HEAL network to tackle health impacts of climate change

Monday, 15 November 2021

Australians will be better protected against the health impacts of climate change, thanks to a new national research network with partners from across Australia and $10 million in Federal Government funding.

hands holding soil

Announced today by Health Minister, the Hon Greg Hunt MP, the Healthy Environments And Lives (HEAL) network brings together Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge, sustainable development, environmental epidemiology, and data science and communication to address climate change and its impacts on health.

HEAL will be funded for five years through the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Special Initiative in Human Health and Environmental Change and operate across all Australian states and territories.

As part of HEAL, researchers, practitioners, communities and policymakers will work together on urban health, bushfires, air, soil and water pollution, food security, heatwaves and other extreme events, and biosecurity.

The University of Newcastle is contributing to two of the seven priority themes: bushfires, air pollution and extreme events (Associate Professor Anthony Kiem); and food, soil and water security (Dr Thava Palanisami).

“The first aim of the priority theme on bushfires, air pollution and extreme events is to better understand current and future impacts of extreme events like bushfires, floods, droughts, and storms on human health,” said Associate Professor Kiem.

“The second is to use those insights to develop and implement adaptation strategies that improve the resilience of the health sector to changing climate conditions.”

Dr Palanisami said his team “aims to develop system solutions to improve food, soil and water security, reduce pollutant exposure, and mitigate associated health risks”.

“Environmental change is crucial in the context of future food, soil and water security, resource planning and waste management,” said Dr Palanisami.

HEAL comprises 100 researchers set to create a national risk assessment of current and future health burdens driven by environmental change in Australia.

“We will join forces to address climate change and other environmental challenges, such as bushfires, air pollution, infectious diseases and heatwaves that have a massive burden on our health and ecosystems,” HEAL’s Director, Professor Sotiris Vardoulakis from The Australian National University (ANU), said.

“It is a very exciting opportunity to do something which is new and different, which builds momentum from grassroots to research to policymaking.

“This is a historic investment in our future. This coordinated group of experts and practitioners will substantially expand the boundaries of Australia’s environmental, climate change and health research community.”

The network will also develop a digital knowledge-action hub, the HEAL Observatory, to support the health sector by providing data and tools that will inform local, state and national decision-making.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leadership and knowledge will be at the heart of the HEAL network.

Other priority topic areas include a focus on children and mothers and the impacts associated with environmental pollution, and how climate change is disproportionately affecting people living in rural and remote communities and regions.

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The University of Newcastle acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands within our footprint areas: Awabakal, Darkinjung, Biripai, Worimi, Wonnarua, and Eora Nations. We also pay respect to the wisdom of our Elders past and present.