At a Nov. 8-10 workshop in New Delhi, NIEHS and partners in India worked toward establishing research collaborations on air pollution exposure and health. NIEHS co-sponsored the event with the Indo-U.S. Science and Technology Forum.
The principal organizer, NIEHS health scientist administrator Sri Nadadur, Ph.D., said the workshop grew out of months of virtual meetings that brought Indian and U.S. atmospheric scientists, clinicians, epidemiologists, and toxicologists together in groups called communities of research. Indian scientists Sundeep Salvi, M.D., Ph.D.; Anurag Agarwal, M.D., Ph.D., and Kalpana Balakrishnan, Ph.D., took lead roles in organizing this workshop.
“We wanted to meet face to face, to identify areas of collaboration in air pollution exposure assessment and health research,” he explained.
Seeds for the collaboration were sown with the formation of the communities of research while Nadadur served as an Embassy Science Fellow at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi in 2015. In addition to the embassy, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Research Triangle International (RTI) provided support for the event.
The Indo-U.S. Workshop to Explore Bilateral Research Opportunities to Address Air Quality and Health Issues involved three days of meetings, talks, and workshops. The program was designed to help determine what kinds of expertise could be provided to Indian researchers, especially in the areas of pollution monitoring and epidemiological studies.
“India needs our help to prioritize achievable scientific goals that will aid in developing the scientific basis for public health policies,” Nadadur said.
Gwen Collman, Ph.D., director of the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training, accompanied Nadadur. "Air quality monitoring is fairly sophisticated in India, but it is not uniform across the country,” Collman told the Press Trust of India. “Another important aspect that is lacking is chemical speciation, which is important, as it helps in identifying the composition of pollutants and where they are coming from.”
Challenges in data gathering
A major focus of the workshop was the logistical difficulties Indian researchers face in coordinating pollution and health data. According to Nadadur, the challenge is both systemic and cultural.
“Tracking health data is a major problem in India because hospital records aren’t digitized, and private doctors don’t keep records at all,” he said. “People have to keep their own records.”
In addition, eighty percent of Indians go to private physicians, further complicating efforts to gather data. “We have to educate private physicians,” said Nadadur. “It is important for them to ask their patients about the environmental factors in their lives that contribute to the diseases they see in their clinics.”
A good start
During the workshop, two working groups focused on air pollution health effects and exposure assessment. The event concluded with discussions of future bilateral research efforts. Both short- and long-term goals were identified for potential collaborative research. Participants are drafting a position paper that will discuss these goals for publication in a peer-reviewed journal, and presentation to diverse research groups in the U.S. and India.
“One such short-term goal was to help exposure assessment and health researchers to work together to identify populations in different cities, with different levels of air pollution, and do an epidemiological study to compare the health effects of pollution in those areas,” Nadadur said. “There’s a lot that needs to be done there, and this was a good start.”
The joint workshop built upon a Nov. 7 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conference at the same venue, “Building the Bridge Between Air Quality, Weather, and Health in India.”
(John Yewell is a contract writer for the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)