3.4 Climate Tools For Public Health: A Synthesis Of Enso Experiment Research Findings

Tuesday, 11 January 2000: 8:59 AM
Juli Trtanj, NOAA, Office of Global Programs, Silver Spring, MD

Continuing advances in understanding seasonal and interannual climate variability now make possible the production of skillful climate forecast information with a lead-time of up to a year. Next to the annual cycle of the seasons, the El Ni–o-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) has the largest impact on global climate. The capacity to predict ENSO, and related changes in precipitation and temperature, affords an opportunity to apply this information to enhance public health policy and decision-making. Applications of this new climate information, however, must be based on solid scientific understanding of the complex connections between the climate system and human health outcomes. In June 1997, scientists participating in the American Society of Microbiology Colloquium on Climate Variability and Human Health looked upon the evolving El Ni–o as natural laboratory for further exploring the ENSO and health connections. New climate prediction tools and the eventual possibility of advance warning of public health threats further energized scientists to participate in the ENSO Experiment.

The ENSO Experiment is an interdisciplinary research activity designed to examine the scientific underpinnings of ENSO and health connections, and to explore the potential for using climate forecast information to provide early warning of conditions posing a public health threat. In particular this experiment has four primary goals:

o to assess the impact of the 1997-98 ENSO event on human health, o to enhance the dialogue among the climate, ecology and health research communities and end users of forecast information, o to document the use of forecast information in the health arena during this ENSO event, and o to identify additional research and monitoring needs and future research requirements.

Conducted in collaboration with numerous domestic and international partners, the ENSO Experiment research activities focus largely on infectious diseases such as malaria, dengue, Hantavirus, rift valley fever, cholera, diarrheal diseases, and marine disturbances. This paper will describe the ENSO Experiment, and will provide a synthesis of research findings, methodological approaches, and future research directions. This paper will also address related Federal activities and institutional mechanisms for facilitating further rigorous climate-health research and its use and value to the public health sector.

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