The UMass Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences shows us that global health is our health.
Picture people living by the banks of a river. Their community has developed into a modern city over many generations. A central road runs parallel to the watercourse. The wealthy people reside at higher altitudes—with a reliable power grid, paved roads, and sanitation service. Beneath the main road, on the waterfront, storm drains and sewage pipes open into the river. The streets in that part of town are unpaved and flood regularly, more regularly now that the ocean the river empties into is getting higher.
In a municipality upstream, a power plant has been cited for contaminants leaching into the groundwater, yet, because of governmental intricacies, has not been penalized. Men still walk down to the river in the evenings to fish for their dinner, and on the outskirts of town, women collect reeds to weave into ceremonial baskets still important to their traditional culture. Outbreaks of disease cycle regularly through the poorer parts of town, but symptoms don’t seem to be passed from person to person.
If you were going to call on someone to study these outbreaks, would you send a doctor? A microbiologist? An ecologist? A fish biologist? A policy specialist? A social worker?
Call in an environmental health scientist. Humans interact with their physical environment at countless points of contact. The field of environmental health covers all of them. Encompassing broad environmental issues and their influence on the health of people, environmental health science represents an intricate balance of clinical science, ecology, medicine, social justice, public policy, and—especially in the field—holistic, almost visionary, thinking.
Environmental health sciences is one of six departments in the UMass Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences (SPHHS). Under the leadership of Marjorie Aelion, dean since 2009, the school has expanded rapidly in the last five years, adding faculty and attracting an increasingly large enrollment of students who want to work in applied science. The SPHHS currently boasts 2,127 undergraduate students, 589 graduate students, and 80 full-time faculty members.
Each department within the SPHHS offers a different angle of approach to solving global health problems. Aelion prefers to conceive of the school as one entity with a single mission. "All departments in this school have the same vision," she says. "All have the aim to help large groups of people—to have a significant impact improving humans’ health and wellness through research, prevention, and intervention.”
One way the school is having a global impact is through the Department of Environmental Health Sciences and its faculty in the field. Their work in middle- to low-income countries and regions demonstrates the reach and potential of the deeply interwoven world of global health.
We want to be able to do bigger and better research, to have more impact locally and globally, and to offer more meaningful experiences to students.Dean Marjorie Aelion
If you as a country only care about today and don’t care about tomorrow, it will probably cost you more in the long term.Associate Professor Richard E. Peltier
Lead photo: Jamestown Fish Harbor in Accra, Ghana: life-giving and culturally important, estuaries can also be vectors of disease. Photo by Muntaka/Wikimedia Commons.