Filter articles by:
Date published
Article keywords
Article type

UC home to HEAL Global Research Centre, leading research excellence in climate change, environment and health

Emma Larouche

26 March 2024: The University of Canberra launched the Healthy Environments and Lives (HEAL) Global Research Centre today, which takes a global approach to address the health risks of climate change and environmental degradation through epidemiology, environmental science, sustainable development, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge systems, data science and communications.

The Centre will be a central hub for the Australia-wide Healthy Environments and Lives (HEAL) National Research Network, which brings together researchers, policymakers and community organisations.

The Network is supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Special Initiative in Human Health and Environmental Change, with a grant of $10 million disbursed over five years (2022-2027).

The new Centre brings together transdisciplinary research under the leadership of Professor Sotiris Vardoulakis, with a focus on health impacts stemming from environmental and climate change and the effectiveness of interventions and adaptation in these areas.

“The team specialises in examining the health impacts of air pollution – which includes bushfire smoke, pollution from wood heaters, industrial activities, road traffic and other sources – as well as extreme temperatures, droughts, floods, and climate-sensitive infectious diseases,” Professor Vardoulakis said.

“We have a particular interest in identifying risks and supporting vulnerable communities disproportionately affected by environmental and climate change; these include people with disabilities, those with pre-existing conditions like asthma, and more. This also applies to some remote areas or urban areas, and to lower socio-economic and culturally and linguistically diverse communities.

“We also specialise in the evaluation of policies and interventions to reduce environmental exposures, emissions and waste, and improve the resilience, adaptive capacity and sustainability of the urban environment, communities and health systems.”

Dr Adi Vyas, an Associate Professor in Public Health and Deputy Centre Director, Dr Nigel Goodman, a Senior Research Fellow in Air Quality and Health; Dr Luise Kazda, an epidemiologist and health systems sustainability Research Fellow; Dr Enembe Okokon, a Research Fellow in Environmental and Occupational Health; Dr Kinley Wangdi, a Senior Research Fellow in climate sensitive infectious diseases; and Dr Ro McFarlane, an ecosystem services researcher and Public Health Discipline Lead, form the central HEAL team, supported by excellent professional staff.

The HEAL team has extensive experience in working collaboratively with the health sector and community organisations in the ACT, Australia, and internationally.

Professor Vardoulakis said that establishing the new Centre will also strengthen the University’s connection to local health services, community groups and government.

“The University of Canberra is deeply embedded in the community, with strong links to the health sector, consumers and government,” he said.

“We’re also looking forward to collaborating with other research centres and institutes across the University and working with the Faculty of Health to create transdisciplinary opportunities and innovative educational offerings for our health practitioners, to strengthen their capabilities in relation to environmental health and climate change sustainability in the health sector.”

The Centre is based at the University’s Health Research Institute (HRI) with members of the team already working closely with the Institute’s Mental Health Policy Unit, Wellbeing and Resilience Unit, Public Health and Health Services Research group, and the Australian Geospatial and Visual and Decision Analytics labs. Key cross-faculty collaborations include the UC Research Institute for Sport and Exercise (UCRISE), and the Centre for Environmental Governance.

HRI Director Professor Rachel Davey said that HEAL will bring a wealth of internationally-recognised research experience on the health effects of climate change, air pollution, and environmental sustainability.

“Australia continues to experience some of the world's most extreme weather events because of global climate change. Sotiris and his team will bring together researchers, policymakers, planners, healthcare professionals, local organisations, and people with lived experience to develop novel research and translate it into practical solutions for effective adaptation and mitigation to climate change,” Professor Davey said.

A launch event was held at the University of Canberra, with opening remarks by Federal Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care Hon Ged Kearney MP and ACT Minister for Water, Energy and Emissions Reduction Shane Rattenbury MLA.

“It’s wonderful to have support from all levels of government, as we continue to work closely on health and climate change strategies,” Professor Vardoulakis said.

“This is vital to ensure we can live healthy lives through the ongoing effects of climate change and a changing environment, while continuing to build a resilient, sustainable and responsive health system.”