Training Hub Continues to Build Research Capacity in Eastern Africa

July 28, 2022

Health problems stemming from environmental and occupational hazards and climate change are escalating through the global south, including Eastern Africa, driven by population growth, rapid urbanization, and industrialization. Since 2015, the National Institutes of Health-funded Eastern Africa GEOHealth (Global Environmental and Occupational Health) Hub has built scientific capacity in Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda to better understand and address these health concerns.

This month, the National Institutes of Health Fogarty International Center announced renewed funding for the Eastern Africa GEOHealth Hub, one of seven such hubs globally. A five-year training grant was awarded to Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health; Kiros Berhane, Cynthia and Robert Citron-Roslyn and Leslie Goldstein Professor and Chair of Biostatistics, and Darby Jack, associate professor of environmental health sciences, are the principal investigators.

The program, which adds Ghana and Rwanda as new partners, will train promising regional public health scientists on environmental and occupational health sciences data collection and analysis; develop curricular materials; and foster trainees’ ability to translate evidence to support environmental policy. The long-range goal is to establish a sustainable research and training hub for the region. So far, 10 “hub scholars” have received long-term mentored research training. The training team for the new cycle comprises researchers from Columbia University (including Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, VP&S, the Climate School, and Engineering), Colorado School of Public Health, University of Southern California, and Colorado State University.

In tandem with the training program, the Eastern Africa GEOHealth Hub research arm is advancing science in three areas: (1) indoor and outdoor air quality and health; (2) occupational health, with emphasis on agriculture; (3) climate change and health. To date, research has focused on child respiratory health in relation to air pollution based on data collected from school children. Air pollution sources include trash burning, industry, diesel vehicles, and indoor cook stoves. Another study is looking at heat stress on workers in the flower industry, in the context of rising temperatures due to the climate crisis. The research component is based at Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia, and carried out in partnership with researchers at Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia; Makerere University, Uganda; University of Nairobi, Kenya.  Additional training partners include the University of Rwanda, Rwanda Kintampo Health Research Centre in Ghana, and the Research and Education Center for Development in Cameroon.

“Air pollution and other environment and occupational threats often go unnoticed but contribute to high rates of preventable illness and deaths. We are pleased to continue training public health scientists in Eastern Africa as they embark on important research to measure—and ultimately support policies to mitigate—these health risks,” says Kiros Berhane, the contact principal investigator of the Eastern Africa GEOHealth Hub.