2009 Symposium

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On May 8, 2009 The Bixby Center co-sponsored cross-disciplinary symposium on Global Change and Global Health with Berkeley Alliance for Global Health and the Center for Global Metropolitan Studies.  The symposium focused on urban health challenges at the intersection of climate change, demographic shifts and economic globalization.

Both within and beyond UC Berkeley, there is increasing momentum towards interdisciplinary approaches to address complex global health problems. The Global Change and Global Health symposium sparked dialogue, disseminated information on existing and planned research, broaden perspectives, and lead to new collaborations. The event provided “a chance to engage in an active cross-pollination of ideas and strategies focused on improving urban health over the coming decades,” said Eva Harris, one of the symposium’s organizers.

The three trends – climate change, demographic change and economic globalization – and the interactions between them, have particular significance for health in the 21st century. The field of public health has traditionally focused on the prevention, monitoring, and mitigation of disease. However, with environmental changes and mass migration compromising the health of vulnerable populations, public health researchers have become increasingly concerned with the rapidly deteriorating quality of air, soil, and water. In both rural and urban regions of the globe, these environmental changes are leading to increases in infectious and chronic diseases.

For the first time in history, more than half of the world’s people are living in urban areas, according to the United Nations. Driven by complex economic and social pressures, rural dwellers are migrating to urban areas in unprecedented numbers. Urban planners, economists, demographers, environmental scientists and public health practitioners alike face the same question: what challenges will such rapid migration create, and what unexpected opportunities may arise?

In a world marked by increasing income disparities that adversely impact the health of the poor, poverty alleviation is a primary concern. Yet as rural dwellers become urban dwellers, the rapid change in lifestyle will lead to an increasing use of energy and environmentally polluting products.  The impact of economic globalization has impacted the poor unevenly, raising concerns over inequitable access to natural resources, livelihood opportunities, and services, especially health care and education. In the meantime, the population size of many cities is projected to double or triple in size, a daunting prospect considering the fact that many urban areas are already stretched beyond their infrastructural capacities.

Urbanization also presents numerous positive opportunities for education and delivery of health services, as barriers such as sheer distance, difficult terrain, and inadequate roads are reduced. Technological advances in health and communications have enormous potential to impact health.  Many innovative solutions are currently being piloted by UC Berkeley faculty and their colleagues around the world. The  Symposium provided participants an opportunity to share and synergize these experiences by setting the stage for an interdisciplinary, solutions-based approach to health.

Three keynote speakers addressed the major drivers of global change and their consequences for urban health. Dr. Trevor Hancock, a pioneer in the healthy cities and communities movement, discussed the State of Urban Health in 2009. Dr. Stephen Schneider of Stanford University discussed climate change and its impacts on health, and Dr. Alex Ezeh, the Director of the African Population and Health Research Center in Nairobi, discussed demographic shifts and how they will affect health.

This new research agenda and the idea for the symposium were initiated by faculty at the School of Public Health, including Kirk Smith, Eva Harris, Lee Riley, and Malcolm Potts. The multidisciplinary approach was developed in collaboration among colleagues at the Berkeley Alliance for Global Health, the Center for Global Metropolitan Studies and the Bixby Center for Population, Health and Sustainability.  Faculty from the School of Public Health, Urban Planning, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Agricultural and Resource Economics, and Environmental Science Policy and Management participated in three interlinked panel discussions to develop cross-cutting strategies to prevent or mitigate contemporary urban health challenges.

You can view webcasts of the symposium at: