Sustainability and Health

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Achieving good health should be an integral part of the current discussions about sustainable development. It is increasingly recognized that health research (and policy) requires a systems approach and the past decades have witnessed an emerging recognition of the multidimensional and multilevel causation of population health. An ever growing number of health researchers argue that the health of a population can – or must – be viewed within the broader system of health determinants. Consequently, in our effort to assess the health impacts of global (environmental) change, we have to be aware of the limitations of the traditional reductionist approach.

Stressing the need for a system-based approach toward health, this chapter discusses and illustrates a conceptual model describing the broader context and multi-causality of our health. We apply this framework to a widely discussed health impact of climate change, namely, the emergence of malaria in the African highlands. This clearly demonstrates that malaria in East Africa’s highlands presents an interesting case study for understanding the importance of the system’s interactions between climate and non-climate factors in shaping human vulnerability to the adverse health impacts of global warming. Climate change is believed to primarily affect the intrinsic malaria transmission potential, but this relationship interacts with other factors and developments that affect disease dynamics as well.

However, trying to conceptually describe the system involved is only one of the first steps in applying a system-based approach toward health. Hence, we briefly elaborate on some example tools from the sustainability science toolkit (modeling, scenario analyses, and participatory methods) that are available and conceivable in order to advance further systems research in the field of health and sustainable development. The chapter concludes with a discussion of possible barriers to adopting a sustainability science approach toward health, in an effort to explain the slow progress made so far.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication Sustainability Science
Subtitle of host publicationan introduction
Place of PublicationDordrecht
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)978-94-017-7242-6
ISBN (Print)978-94-017-7241-9
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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