Environmental and Occupational Health

“Equity, ecologically-sustainable development and peace are at the heart of our vision of a better world – a world in which a healthy life for all is a reality; a world that respects, appreciates and celebrates all life and diversity; a world that enables the flowering of people’s talents and abilities to enrich each other; a world in which people’s voices guide the decisions that shape our lives. There are more than enough resources to achieve this vision.”

-From the Vision Statement of the People’s Charter for Health drafted by the People’s Health Movement

History of involvement in Environmental Health

The environmental health component of the CHC-SOCHARA journey since 1984, has been a very unusual one. Never planned as a definitive objective, it evolved through an interactive responsiveness of the CHC team to a range of requests and challenges starting from an active engagement with the Bhopal gas disaster.

The Bhopal engagement:

It was a path less travelled but a path that was made by just walking into the unknown. As the journey moved beyond Bhopal, to Harihar, Mangalore, Tumkur, Kasargod, Kodaikanal, Eloor, Kolar gold fields, Warangal, Cuddalore, Mettur, Chitradurga and so on, the CHC-SOCHARA team discovered the challenges of pesticides, viscose rayons, malaria, endosulphan, mercury, tobacco, radiation, industrial pollution, manual scavenging, farmers suicides and the increasing complexity and magnitude of the environmental health challenge in India.

This interactive responsiveness embedded in a social-community paradigm of action undertaken by the team led to experiences in participatory research, lay epidemiology, policy advocacy, health promotion, communication, networking, capacity building, multi stakeholder dialogue, governance, legal and ethical issues and the challenges of representing the voice of the people. The most important of these has been the development of the CHESS network – a loose and growing network of organisations and individuals who keep in touch with each other as they explore the emerging challenges of environmental health in the country.

Recent and ongoing EOH processes and projects:

1)  CHESS:

Since 2001, SOCHARA has been associated with an idea/initiative called Community Health Environment Survey Skill-share (CHESS), primarily with these objectives:

  • Bringing communities suffering from pollution together on the same platform to share their experiences with each other
  • Bringing communities in contact with epidemiologists and health professionals to help create local networks and facilitate documentation of health problems in each of those areas
  • Training health volunteers from affected communities in identifying and systematically documenting health problems due to industrial pollution/occupational hazards

Between 2001 and 2008, 4 national workshops were held, along with several local level workshops. SOCHARA members have been resource persons at workshops and have facilitated community level interventions. In February 2015, the 5th CHESS workshop was organised on the issue of healthy energy, in which SOCHARA participated as a technical resource group. 

2)  Other community based action:

SOCHARA’s involvement in addressing climate change as a health issue has been recent. One project was conducted in collaboration with Watershed Organisation Trust (WOTR), Pune as a part of their Climate Change Adaptation project. SOCHARA was invited in 2012 to participate with them as a health resource group. A tool for participatory health vulnerability assessment has been developed in line with the Co-DriVE tool, and will be available soon for wider usage. This tool allows communities to explore their own health vulnerabilities to climate change in a facilitated manner, and to explore for local solutions to the same. There is a plan for greater community level work on climate change in the near future.

3)  Environmental Health Policy:

Some of the recent research work has been related to environmental policies, for instance the Environmental Impact Assessment Notification. Gaps have been found in including health concerns as part of environmental policies, and some work is being done in this area by the unit.

Some of the future work in this area will include analysis of energy and climate change policies in India. Besides this, SOCHARA is also involved as a resource group in discussing about health implications of energy and energy sources, and a quest for healthy energy.

4)  Research in Environmental Health

SOCHARA has initiated minor research efforts in various aspects of environmental health including energy, climate change, industrial pollution and sanitation. Fellows enrolled in our learning program too have been conducting field investigations and qualitative enquiries into these aspects. More recently some of them have presented their findings at national level conferences as well. A list of technical reports and research papers in the field of environmental health is available in the CLIC section of the website.

Lay epidemiology is also an area of interest at SOCHARA and efforts are underway to strengthen community capacity. A document/manual is being prepared at the moment to facilitate lay epidemiological research by members of impacted communities.

SOCHARA has partnered with WOTR in conducting a study on heat stress during summer months in rural drought prone areas of Maharashtra. The mixed method study will be completed in 2016. Analysis of the initial data was presented at an international conference. The findings will be used to support development of local action plans and also state level policies. Pamphlets on protection against heat stress were also prepared and distributed in local language (Marathi).

5)  Networking in Environmental Health:

SOCHARA has a rich history of encouraging and supporting networking and movement building initiatives such as the PHM, JSA, mfc and AIDAN. Currently efforts are being made to bring together environmental health researchers from across the country on a common platform to encourage exchange of ideas and work in collaboration.Read more here

The contemporary importance of Environmental Health was also discussed at a recent national level symposium conducted by SOCHARA on the occasion of its silver jubilee. Some members of the growing EH network attended as resource persons. 

6)  Training in Environmental Health

Training in environmental and occupational health is being provided as part of our year-long community health fellowship programmes in Bangalore and Bhopal. The module covers basics understanding environment as a determinant of health, the various determinants of environmental quality, the health outcomes of a poor environment and approaches to prevent environmental degradation and to enhance local environmental health by bringing local populations together. It also covers concerns about occupations in the unorganised sector, and implications it may have on the wage, job security, occupational environment, social security and health of the worker.

In addition, recently capacity building in EOH has expanded to include other public health programmes, for instance at the Interdisciplinary School of Health Sciences, University of Pune, where one of our staff members is a visiting faculty.

Modules on Environment and Health are also being evolved and conducted at Azim Premji University and Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Public Health as part of their masters programmes. 

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