Occupational & environmental health: Aga Khan, Alabama universities to co-develop research training courses

Business Recorder; Mar 20, 2002

KARACHI : The Aga Khan University (AKU) in collaboration with the University of Alabama (UAB) at Birmingham, USA, has been awarded a grant from the Fogarty International Centre of the United States National Institute of Health, to co-develop research training courses in Karachi and abroad for Pakistani health professionals wishing to advance their expertise in occupational and environmental health.

The programme is to be led by Dr Frankline White and Dr Masood Kadir at AKU and Dr Nalini Sathiakumar and Dr Elizabeth Delzell at UAB, with support from other colleagues at both centres. The total value of the grant is approximately half a million US dollars, spread over a period of five years.

The grant would be used in the first instance to bring experts from UAB to AKU, to help AKU's Department of Community Health Sciences build upon its own developing capacity in this critical area of public health research and development as well as to sponsor selected trainees for advanced education abroad. The department has already conducted landmark studies into environmental lead exposure and the adverse health impacts of water quality. The grant would assist the department in developing further studies in these areas as well as to develop expertise in other priority areas such as vector control, pesticide exposures, noise and air pollution and the assessment of workplace health and safety.

Last year, the AKU concluded a study of blood lead level in a large representative sample of Karachi children revealing that 80 percent have levels above a level recognised internationally to be associated with the risk for neurological impairment and in some instances more serious toxic effects. A study of diarrhoea in remote northern villages demonstrated the critical importance of water, sanitation and hygiene interventions in reducing the incidence of this leading cause of child mortality throughout the country.

Both studies emphasise that medical care is an inadequate response to such health problems, and that the root causes of environmental contamination must be tackled through public health measures such as eliminating lead in petrol and ensuring access to safe potable water.

Initially, the AKU and the UAB would launch short courses, targeting participants from universities, industry, regulatory agencies and environmental NGOs. They would also co-host workshops on priority topics, develop medium and longer-term degree training options for Pakistanis at both institutions, which go beyond the usual limits of traditional medical education. The long-term aim is to develop indigenous capacity within Pakistan for all levels of training relevant to these critically important aspects of public health.

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