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NIEHS at WHO Conference on Children's Health

By Rebecca Wilson
January 2009

NIEHS Superfund Research Program (SRP) Director William Suk, Ph.D., stands at a podium.
Suk, above, moderated a panel discussion at the conference's Asbestos Forum. He also made a presentation at the Plenary Session. (Photo courtesy of William Suk)

A seated crowd watches a chorus of Korean children on a stage.
Conference attendees enjoyed entertainment by a chorus of Korean children in traditional dress. (Photo courtesy of William Suk)

NIEHS Superfund Research Program (SRP) ( Director William Suk, Ph.D., and SRP Program Administrator Claudia Thompson, Ph.D., were among 450 attendees including researchers, non-governmental organization (NGO) representatives and health ministers at the the third World Health Organization (WHO) International Conference on Children's Health and the Environment, held in Busan, Republic of Korea June 7-10. NIEHS National Advisory Environmental Health Sciences Council member Nsedu Witherspoon also attended, representing the Children's Environmental Health Network in Washington, DC.

In collaboration with WHO, NIEHS has long been a strong supporter of children's global environmental health. NIEHS has assisted with establishing partnerships among researchers and institutes and focusing support on collaborations between developing and developed countries. "The goal of these conferences," said Suk, "is to increase the health and well-being of children, primarily with regard to their environmental exposures."

Organized by WHO and hosted by the Korean Ministry of the Environment and Ministry of Health, Social Welfare and Family Planning, the conference was a forum for sharing information regarding the reduction of infant mortality and ensuring environmental sustainability. In addition to the primary meeting, a satellite workshop of the Korean Paediatric Society introduced Korean pediatricians to the need to monitor children's exposure to environmental pollutants. Representatives from the International Paediatric Association presented at the workshop.

The conference included several well-attended breakout sessions. A session addressing the health effects of nanotechnology featured presentations by Suk and Professor Peter Sly, M.D., of the University of Western Australia. A second session that generated a great deal of interest explored the effects of asbestos exposure in children. The conference culminated with the acceptance by all participants of the Busan Pledge, which reaffirmed the need for collaboration and cooperation among NGOs, governments, researchers and communities.

The first WHO/NIEHS-sponsored International Children's Environmental Health Conference, held in Bangkok in 2002, marked the beginning of an increased emphasis on children's health globally. As a result of this focus, WHO has designated several programs as Collaborating Centres for Research on Children's Environmental Health. The organization published declarations of support for children's environmental health, which were signed by governments and scientific organizations, and advocated for a marked increase in research being conducted internationally.

NIEHS is a leader in children's environmental health in the U.S. and has been funding research in this area for the past 15 years. In coordination with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, NIEHS supports a national network of Centers for Children's Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research established 1998. The NIEHS also is providing leadership for the National Children's Study, which was implemented in 2007.

(Rebecca Wilson is an environmental health information specialist for MDB, Inc., a contractor for the NIEHS Superfund Research Program and Worker Education and Training Program.)

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