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Sustainable Development Working Group addresses health issues in the Arctic

In May, multiple meetings addressing human health issues in the Arctic took place in Tromsø. These included a workshop on reducing the incidence of suicide in indigenous groups, and a meeting of the Arctic Human Health Expert Group, or AHHEG.

During the week of 9-13 May 2016, Tromsø became a venue for discussing health issues in the Arctic.

The week began with a workshop on reducing the incidence of suicide in indigenous groups. It was the second workshop in a series of three workshops within the RISING SUN project, an endorsed project of the Arctic Council’s Sustainable Development Working Group (SDWG). RISING SUN (Reducing the Incidence of Suicide in Indigenous Groups-- Strengths United through Networks) aims to create a common, science-based set of metrics to evaluate the key correlates and outcomes associated with suicide prevention interventions across the Arctic. On the first day, the workshop focused on suicide prevention among the Saami people, while the second day was devoted to the analysis of research results and discussion of further actions.

The Arctic Human Health Expert Group (AHHEG), which is an advisory group to the SDWG, then gathered in Tromsø on Wednesday, 11 May 2016, to discuss the SDWG’s current health-related projects and to identify health topics that will be especially relevant in the future. The meeting brought together representatives with expertise in such areas as: infectious diseases, cancer, hematology, contaminants in food, injury prevention, population health services, tobacco and alcohol abuse reduction, suicide prevention, and mental health. These individuals came from six of the eight Arctic States and from five of the six Permanent Participant organizations, which represent the indigenous peoples of the Arctic.

At first, the group heard updates on the progress of the Arctic Council’s health-related projects and initiatives. One such initiative is “Operationalizing One Health in the Arctic,” which is designed to evaluate and respond to health issues at the interface between humans, animals, and ecosystems. It is of special significance in the Arctic, where there is a great need to understand the impact of climate change on the health of the region as a whole.

The AHHEG members also focused on another endorsed project, “Improving Health through Safe and Affordable Access to Household Running Water and Sewer (Arctic WASH),” which deals with the challenge of improving health through ensuring access to household running water and sewer in Arctic and sub-Arctic communities. The project focuses on: promoting innovations in water and sewer technologies and service provision in Arctic communities; documenting the status of water and sewer service and associated health outcomes in Arctic communities; and describing climate-related vulnerabilities and adaptation strategies related to Arctic community water and sewer systems. A recent publication by AHHEG’s Co-chair summarizes this effort.

The group also discussed the issue of indigenous research ethics, as health research in the Arctic indigenous communities can be associated with some very sensitive issues. AHHEG is compiling the ethical guidelines from around the Arctic that address conduct of research and management of human specimen collections to identify common features and best practices used in Arctic human health research.

The afternoon session was devoted to strategic discussions, including coordination with other Arctic Council activities and observer groups. The next event for the AHHEG is an international conference on water and sanitation in Anchorage, Alaska, 18-21 September, 2016.