Statement of Need
People born in the 21st Century in most regions of the World can expect to live significantly longer and healthier lives than those born just over a century ago. A significant factor in this increase have been gains in environmental management, including improved sanitation, purified water, more effective control of disease vectors and reservoirs, cleaner air, and safer use of chemicals in our homes, gardens, farms, factories, and offices. Continued improvement in quality of life and longevity depends on understanding a complex array of factors that determine human health conditions. Significant differences in the health and well-being of people in various regions of the World still exist. One person in five does not have access to good quality drinking water. The rapidly-growing global population is creating numerous stresses with serious health impacts, such as increased release of chemical emissions into the environment, and special attention needs to be paid to an observing system which can track indicators for these chemicals, especially persistent organic pollutants (POPs), heavy metals, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and pesticides. The demands of this ever-increasing global population call for the development, communication, and fulfillment of user requirements for data and data products to aid in satisfying our fundamental needs for clean air and water, food, and shelter and in enhancing our present quality of life and the sustainable development necessary for our future.
Vision and How GEOSS will Help
The vision is for Earth Observation to make a significant contribution to the continued improvements in human health by enabling improved understanding of the linkages between the environment and human health, as well as prevention, early warning, and more rapid problem-solving. It will be achieved through the development of a system of in situ, airborne, and space-based systems integrated through assimilation and modeling tools with census data on health, and building upon developing systems such as the international Earth System Science Partnership (ESSP) and the Centers for Disease Control (United States) Public Health Information Network (PHIN). The outputs will be to identify environmental conditions, health hazards, and at-risk populations, and to establish epidemiological associations between measurable environmental parameters, chronic and infectious diseases, and health conditions. To accomplish this, the available data will be identified, processed into a useable form, and disseminated to all users, including the health community represented by relevant international bodies such as the World Health Organization (WHO), ESSP, and PHIN. Models relating environmental hazards to health condition/disease will be developed and tested in appropriate areas.
Existing Situation and Gaps
The most pressing need for improved human health and well-being is to bring together into one system the many disparate entities with health and environment data and observations to better understand the links between the environment and health, as well as to enable prevention, early warning, and more rapid problem solving. All countries have a capability to provide health support, and a number of government, inter-government, and non-government organizations provide global support. What are not well developed are the linkages between these efforts and the agencies making environmental observations. Equally, there is insufficient systematic work on the integration of environmental data with health statistics and information. There is a large gap in knowing and communicating what the needs are of the public/human health community and those that can be provided by the remote sensing/GIS/spatial analysis and technologies community. Training and educational venues need to be organised to promote a better understanding of what the needs of the human health community (e.g. epidemiology) are versus what can be provided by the space technologies community.