Scope of activities
The HWCT focuses on the human dimension of the Arctic; the people, their challenges and their capacity for resilience. Fundamental to human health and well-being is the connection of people to the Arctic environment and ecosystems. Many of our objectives focus on the nexus of the natural, physical, and social sciences because environmental changes affect human health and well-being in multiple ways. The team seeks to promote meaningful applications of data to promote deeper understanding of health and health threats, and seeks to integrate collaborative and interdisciplinary approaches to support health monitoring/disease surveillance, planning/preparedness, adaptation, and response to a changing Arctic environment. We value an enhanced understanding of the social determinants of health and improved well-being of Arctic residents, and we utilize a systems-based approach because of the interconnectedness among cultural, environmental, and societal factors.
Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (Website)
Arctic Investigations Program
Performance elements from the Arctic research plan
1.1 Support integrative approaches to human health that recognize the connections among people, wildlife, the environment, and climate.
1.1.1 In collaboration with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC), advance and support a regional One Health approach for assessing interactions at the Arctic human-animal-environment interface to enhance understanding of, and response to, the complexities of climate change for Arctic residents
1.1.2 In collaboration with the ANTHC, support community-based monitoring and IK and LK by maintaining and strengthening the Local Environmental Observer (LEO) Network to help describe connections between climate change, environmental impacts, and health effects.
1.1.3 In coordination with the ANTHC, use the Alaska Native Maternal Organics Monitoring Study (MOM) to monitor the spatial distribution, contaminant levels, and biological effects in species having body burdens of human caused Persistent Organic Pollutants21 (POPs) at or above levels of concern; and improve understanding of the adverse effects of POPs on human populations, especially on child development.
1.1.4 Increase understanding of how both natural climate change and the effects of human activities are affecting the ecosystem by documenting observations of changing sea ice conditions, with implications for development and subsistence. Efforts like Arctic Crashes: Humans, Animals in a Rapidly-Changing World and Northern Alaska Sea Ice Project Jukebox are examples of contributions to this performance element.
1.1.5 Support the Rural Alaska Monitoring Program (RAMP), a community-based environmental monitoring network in Alaska Native communities to collect samples and data on zoonotic pathogens, mercury, and organic contaminants in land and sea mammals used for subsistence.
1.2 Promote research, sustainable development, and community resilience to address health disparities associated with underlying social determinants of health and well-being.
1.2.1 In collaboration with the ANTHC and the State of Alaska, support development of Arctic Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) innovations and characterize the health consequences associated with decreased access to in-home water and sanitation services.
1.2.2 Together with the ANTHC, the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation, and Bristol Bay Health Corporation, support research on the health impacts of poor indoor air quality, especially in children. Support source testing and technologies to improve indoor air quality.
1.2.3 Support educating and connecting Arctic residents with museum collections and archival materials to improve community mental health and well-being through efforts such as The Health of Heritage.
1.2.4 Synthesize knowledge on sustainable development among Arctic communities; develop a state-of- the-art understanding of social-ecological systems in the Arctic context; and amass case studies of best practices that support well-being and sustainable development across the Arctic.
1.3 Promote food, water, and energy security in rural/remote Arctic regions.
1.3.1 In collaboration with the State of Alaska, coordinate investigations and reporting on food security in the Arctic, to include shifting patterns of food consumption, the safety of subsistence foods, and successful adaptation strategies being employed by northern residents.
1.3.2 In collaboration with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC) and the Alaska Rural Water and Sanitation Working Group, support the ADEC “Alaska Water and Sewer Challenge” and provide input and support for the Conference on Water Innovations for Healthy Arctic Homes (WIHAH) and its resultant research activities and recommendations.
1.3.3 Together with the Alaska Energy Authority (AEA), the Cold Climate Housing Research Center (CCHRC), and UAF, promote research on renewable, efficient, and sustainable (resource, maintenance, and cost) energy systems, including microgrid technology development and application in remote Arctic communities via USARC’s Arctic Renewable Energy Working Group activities.
1.4 Document the prevalence and nature of violence against Alaska Native women and youth; evaluate the effectiveness of Federal, State, tribal, and local responses to violence against Alaska Native women and youth; and propose recommendations to improve the effectiveness of such responses.
1.4.1 Conduct a National Baseline Study (NBS) to assess Alaska Native women’s experiences with violence and victimization, health and wellness, community crime, service needs, and help-seeking behaviors and outcomes.
1.4.2 Examine the contributions Village Public Safety Officers (VPSO) make to their rural communities and the criminal justice responses to violence committed against Alaska Native women. Evaluate and document the impact that the Alaska VPSO initiative is having on the investigation and prosecution of those who commit acts of sexual and domestic violence against Alaska Native women in rural communities.
1.4.3 Together with the AIDA, determine effective methods to assess exposure to violence and victimization among Alaska Native youth, ultimately to improve their health and well- being. Develop and test a survey instrument and different administration modes that can effectively evaluate exposure to violence and victimization and determine the feasibility of using these procedures in tribal communities.
1.5 Increase understanding of mental health, substance abuse, and well-being for Alaskan youth; and support programs that address those impacts and strengthen youth resilience.
1.5.1 Increase knowledge and the evidence base for effective community- determined approaches that contribute to the health and well-being of children and youth as they move into adulthood. Efforts like Native Youth Initiative for Leadership, Empowerment, and Development (I-LEAD) and Generation Indigenous are examples of contributions to this performance element.
1.5.2 Support tribal behavioral health programs and collaborative research hubs to prevent and reduce suicidal behavior and substance abuse and to reduce the burden of suicide and promote resilience among Alaska Native youth.
1.5.3 Conduct surveys to document and report on adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) in Alaska children, including among American Indian and Alaska Native children.
1.6 Support the reduction of occupational safety and health (OSH) hazards in the Arctic, particularly in the commercial fishing, water, and air transportation industries as well as for those workers exposed to occupational hazards from climate change impacts.
1.6.1 Together with the State of Alaska, document and describe fatal and non-fatal occupational injuries using epidemiologic surveillance.
1.6.2 Together with the State of Alaska, conduct prevention-oriented research addressing fatal and nonfatal injuries and illnesses in high-risk worker populations.
1.7 Improve the quality, efficiency, effectiveness, and value of health care delivery in the Arctic.
1.7.1 In collaboration with the ANTHC, promote research on how telemedicine applications can improve health care delivery and patient outcomes.
For FY2017, the HWCT major achievements have included supporting integrative approaches to human health that recognize the connections among people, wildlife, the environment, and climate (Research Objective 1.1); documenting the prevalence and nature of violence against Alaska Native women and youth (Research Objective 1.4); and increasing understanding of mental health, substance abuse, and well-being for Alaskan youth, as well as supporting programs that address those impacts and strengthen youth resilience (Research Objective 1.5). Specifically, two meetings (May, August 2017) centered on advancing and supporting a regional One Health approach for assessing interactions at the Arctic human-animal-environment interface to enhance understanding of, and responses to, the complexities of climate change for Arctic residents; the HWCT July meeting highlighted research conducted by the Justice Center of the University of Alaska, Anchorage, and supported by the National Institute of Justice, on Violence Against American Indian and Alaska Native Women and Men, and reviewed the Alaska Victimization Survey; and the June meeting addressed domestic (e.g., , , ) and international (Arctic Council) efforts to address mental illness and suicide prevention among Alaska Native communities, highlighting new -funded collaborative hubs to reduce the burden of suicide in American Indian and Alaska Native youth.
Collaboration Between Federal Agencies and the Research Community
The HWCT has improved communication and collaboration between Federal agencies and with the research community by convening monthly thematic meetings (e.g., focused on Research Objectives 1.1, 1.4, and 1.5) to establish new, and expand existing, networks of stakeholders that include but are not limited to Federal, State of Alaska, and Tribal partners and practitioners. HWCT Team Leaders also utilized meetings, workshops, and large-scale projects (e.g., Alaska One Health meetings; Arctic Interchange sessions; National Indian Health Board Public Health Summit; Workshop; etc.) to leverage work towards achieving objectives.
Stakeholder engagement has occurred hand in hand with improving communication and collaborations through monthly thematic meetings and outreach at conferences, e.g., Alaska Forum on the Environment, and other meetings of relevance to the health and wellbeing of Arctic residents. HWCT Team Leaders have also utilized the Collaborations website to disseminate information of interest including but not limited to project updates, recent publications, upcoming meetings and webinars, and funding opportunities.
Plans for 2018
The HWCT intends to continue using its monthly thematic meetings and participation at health-related conferences and other meetings to enhance communication between Federal agencies and to engage stakeholders throughout FY2018. In addition, there will be increased efforts to convene joint meetings with other Collaboration Teams who have Performance Elements with implications for enhancing the health and wellbeing of Arctic residents. For example, the HWCT used its September 2017 meeting to invite members from the Terrestrial Ecosystems Collaboration Team, and the Atmosphere Collaboration Team, to address issues related to the health impacts of wildfires. Similarly, the HWCT aims to coordinate with the Permafrost Collaboration Team to discuss potential cooperative efforts with respect to promoting water security (Research Objective 1.3), supporting development of Arctic water, sanitation, and hygiene innovations, and characterizing the health consequences associated with decreased access to in-home water and sanitation services (Research Objective 1.2), as well as how to determine how warming and thawing permafrost impacts infrastructure and human health (Research Objective 6.4).