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May 8, 2002


Emory University Professor Training Public Health Professionals In Peru and Chile About Environmental and Occupational Research

Emory University public health professor Howard Frumkin, M.D. has been awarded a five-year grant for approximately $150,000 per year by the Fogarty International Center at the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) to train health professionals from Peru and Chile in environmental and occupational health research.

In October 2001, Dr. Frumkin began to establish and reinforce relationships with collaborators in the two South American countries to identify research priorities and distribute grant funding.

Environmental problems have become common and serious in poor nations, even as the United States has seen many improvements, Dr. Frumkin notes. In Peru and Chile, problems include air pollution, mining waste, metal toxicity and urbanization. Moreover, workplace hazards such as unguarded machinery and chemical exposures create serious occupational health concerns. These problems are heightened by shortages of technically trained personnel to recognize hazards and enforce regulations, and the high cost or unavailability of modern manufacturing and emissions control equipment.

"Environmental and occupational health is a critical issue in these countries. Part of the solution lies in training skilled local public health researchers and practitioners, and another part lies in providing convincing data that document the need for preventive measures," says Dr. Frumkin chairman of the department of Environmental and Occupational Health, Emory University Rollins School of Public Health. "Both approaches can help raise awareness, motivate public policy and guide sound decisions. Emory has a strong track record in international public health training. The close links we have with a wide range of academic, government, and private sector groups will greatly enhance the training we provide."

Dr. Frumkin will collaborate with faculty from the University of Chile, the nation's leading research institution, and the Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia (UPCH), a leading private university in Peru. The program will include research training in Mexico and at Emory, financial support for on-site research in Peru and Chile, and ongoing research collaboration.

Over the last two years, the School of Public Health at the University of Chile has undergone a modernization process that included the creation of a division of environmental and occupational health (EOH).

Environmental hazards in Chile, Dr. Frumkin says, are suspected to contribute to the nations' disease burden. For example, poorly developed mining practices have resulted in excessive emissions of contaminants and insufficient protection of workers, nearby communities and the environment. Also of concern are the physical conditions of working at high altitudes (up to 4,000 meters) with high levels of noise and stressful work schedules.

"The Chilean economy has expanded rapidly in the past two decades," says Dr. Frumkin. "But unfortunately, the expansion occurred without the development of environmental and workplace regulations."

Like Chile, Peru also has an extensive mining industry. The country faces challenges with water pollution, air pollution and problems from the effects of lead and mercury.

"The Peruvian research priorities include basic sanitary problems such as water-borne diseases and sewage treatment," Dr. Frumkin says. "They are also concerned with the eight million people, one third of the population, who live at altitudes above 2000 meters. "The effects of that kind of environment alone and in combination with other environmental exposures are a high priority."

Chilean and Peruvian EOH trainee applicants are currently submitting research proposals for Frumkin and in-country faculty leaders to evaluate. Their proposals include research on topics such as mine pollution and male hormonal function; lead and neuropsychological function in gold miners and their families; pediatric asthma and allergic diseases in Lima; and blood lead levels in Lima transit police.

Once accepted, trainees will participate in a directed sequence of activities designed to propel them to successful, high-impact research on EOH in Chile and Peru, Dr. Frumkin says.

First, formal academic training will be provided at Mexico's National Institute of Public Health/School of Public Health of Mexico, providing high quality, low cost education conducted in the Spanish language. Second, trainees will participate in a four- to six-month Bridge Fellowship at Emory, during which they will develop research protocols, acquire specific additional skills they need, form collaborative relationships with U.S. colleagues, and pursue funding opportunities. Finally, trainees will return to Chile and Peru for in-country research. Emory faculty and other U.S. investigators will maintain long-term collaborations in this research.

"As the program achieves initial success, we believe it will have an impact on environmental and occupational health research on Peru and Chile's nearby South America neighbors," Dr. Frumkin says. "Countries such as Ecuador, Bolivia and Argentina face some of the same challenges as Chile and Peru."

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