Advancing ecohealth in Latin America and the Caribbean

April 03, 2012
Ecosystems and Human Health
Since the mid-1990s, IDRC has pioneered and supported ground-breaking research that uses an ecosystem approach to health (ecohealth). Ecohealth researchers examine the relationship between the health of people, society, and the quality of their environment. Ecohealth research brings together people with different skills, interests, understandings, roles, power, and responsibilities.

Regional and thematic ecohealth networks pool knowledge and resources to encourage collaboration among researchers. The Community of Practice in Ecosystem Approaches to Health in Latin America and the Caribbean (CoPEH-LAC) looks for solutions to human health problems that are rooted in ecosystem conditions, poverty, and inequities.

The name “community of practice” (CoP) refers to a group of people who share a concern and passion for what they do. They learn how to apply their knowledge through their interactions and by collaborating  on projects. 

Key CoPEH-LAC themes

CoPEH-LAC started in 2006 as a small team of researchers from six countries in the Americas, including Canada. It is now  collective of more than 150 scholars, policymakers, professionals, and community representatives organized in sub-groups. Co-founder Donna Mergler, of the Université du Québec à Montréal, pioneered ecohealth research in the Brazilian Amazon. 

CoPEH-LAC members research on health, environment, and poverty includes

  • the health effects of exposure to pollutants
  • communicable disease prevention and control
  • the health of workers and their families
  • the health needs of women and indigenous peoples
  • strengthening community leadership and labour organizations
CoPEH-LAC provides learning opportunities for academics, junior researchers, non-governmental organizations, practitioners, and policymakers. A virtual library of course materials is now available online. Network self-evaluations help to assess the needs of the membership and identify new ways to work together. Read more about social network analysis.
CoPEH-LAC members also advise government officials on how they can reduce environmental health problems sustainably.  For example, they have worked with the Organismo Andino de Salud (Andean Regional Health Committee) on climate change and environmental health policies.
CoPEH-LAC is part of a new consortium in Latin America and the Caribbean exploring how an ecohealth approach can prevent and control vector-borne diseases, such as dengue and malaria. The team is  monitoring and evaluating activities, as well as guiding thinking on best practices to exchange, synthesize, and transfer knowledge. 

Each CoPEH-LAC regional group is unique

The members of each regional group focus on the local problems and issues in their communities and countries:
  • Mexico: Under the coordination of the National Institute of Public Health, Mexican members of CoPEH-LAC are conducting research on chemical pollution and vector-borne diseases. They introduced ecohealth concepts and methods into public health training at nine federal and state universities.
  • Central America and the Caribbean (Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Panama): The Central American Institute of Studies on Toxic Substances at the Universidad Nacional in Heredia, Costa Rica, hosts this part of the network. Ecohealth is now part of graduate training in Cuba, Nicaragua, Panama, and Costa Rica. Partners promoted the use of an ecohealth policy approach, for example on solid waste management in Panama and occupational health in Cuba.
  • Andean region (Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela): Coordinated by the Health, Environment and Development Foundation (FUNSAD) in Ecuador, this group helps integrate the social, economic, and environmental dimensions of health. 
  • Cono Sur (South Cone countries: Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay): Coordinated by the Centro de Estudios de la Mujer  in Chile, Cono Sur members are experts in gender analysis and the development of curriculum and tools for ecohealth training. Their research addresses the health and environmental impacts of pollution from mining, industry, and agriculture. 
  • Brazil: With a base at the Centro de Desenvolvimento Sustentável at the Universidade de Brasília, network members work with the Ministry of Health, the Rede Escola Continental em Saúde do Trabalhador, and other professionals. The CoPEH convened more than 1,500 policymakers, scholars, non-governmental organizations, union leaders, and health workers to discuss the links between social movements and health in a series of provincial and national meetings in 2008.

Read more

CoPEH-LAC’s website

Final technical report of the Community of practice in ecosystem health to reduce toxic exposures in Latin America and the Caribbean (COPEH-TLAC) 2009

Findings brief: External review of a community of practice development project on ecohealth in Latin America and the Caribbean 2009
Find out more about CoPEH-LAC’s contributions at the International EcoHealth Forum 2008, in Mexico.

Photos: CoPEH-LAC
CoPEH-LAC is a decentralised network of regional sub-groups.