HEAL network investigates health impacts of climate change

16 November 2021

Australians will have increased protection from the health impacts of climate change under a $10 million national research network established to tackle the issue with The University of Queensland.

In announcing the Federally funded project, Federal Health Minister, the Hon Greg Hunt MP said the Healthy Environments And Lives (HEAL) network will bring together Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge, sustainable development, environmental epidemiology, data science and digital communication to address climate change health effects.

Researchers, practitioners, communities and policymakers will work together on issues such as urban health, biosecurity, air, soil and water pollution, food security, bushfires, heatwaves and other extreme events.

UQ Associate Professor Nicholas Osborne, an epidemiologist and toxicologist with the School of Public Health, said it was a great privilege to be part of a team that will build Australia’s resilience to future health challenges caused by our changing environment.”

“I’m excited the Healthy Environments and Lives national research network will catalyse research, knowledge exchange and translation into policy to maximise the benefits of our joint efforts,” Associate Professor Osborne said.

“The HEAL research network will enable us to better understand how our environment is changing and what impact this will have on Australians in the future.”

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

HEAL Director, Professor Sotiris Vardoulakis from Australian National University (ANU) said it is a very exciting opportunity to do something new and different, which builds momentum from grassroots through to research and policymaking.

“This is an 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,” Professor Vardoulakis said.

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.

Dr Veronica Matthews from the University of Sydney, lead of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander theme, said HEAL includes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and organisations that are already feeling the impact of climate change.

“In recognition of the value of First Nations’ knowledge obtained from looking after Country for thousands and thousands of years, a key action of the HEAL network is the ‘Story-Data Atlas,” Dr Matthews said.

“It includes community-developed interactive digital maps that will weave together local biocultural knowledge and climate data to create a foundation for community-driven adaptation planning based on local priorities.”

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.

Participating organisations include; The University of Queensland; The Australian National University, University of Sydney, University of Melbourne, Menzies School of Health Research, Griffith University, Telethon Kids Institute, University of Tasmania, University of South Australia, Queensland University of Technology, The University of Western Australia, National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, University of New South Wales, RMIT, University of Queensland, Curtin University, Flinders University, Charles Darwin University, Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association, University of Newcastle, Lowitja Institute, South Australia Health and Medical Research Institute, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, University Technology Sydney, Centenary Institute, Deakin University, James Cook University, Murdoch University, Environment Protection Authority Victoria, and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.

The HEAL Network will hold its inaugural conference on 17-18 November 2021 with a node at the UQ Medical School in Herston.