Training: Environmental Exposure Assessment

In October 2018, CCDC-PHFI-GEOHealth Hub for Research and Capacity Building
& Capacity Building and Education Committee of International Society for Environmental Epidemiology (ISEE) organized a Short Course on Environmental Exposure Assessment in India. 

Photo courtesy of Dr. Cathryn Tonne

The course was taught by: 

Cathryn Tonne, Associate Research Professor Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), Spain

Laura Beane-Freeman, Senior Investigator, National Cancer Institute, Occupational and Environmental Epidemiology Branch, USA

Miranda Loh, Senior Scientist, Institute of Occupational Medicine, Centre for Human Exposure Science, UK

Vidhya Venugopal, Professor, Sri Ramachandra Univesity, India

Learning objectives for the course included: 

– To understand the principles of environmental exposure assessment 

– To understand how different methods relate to epidemiological study design

– To interpret real data on a range of environmental exposures 

– To use theory/methods in practical application

We caught up with Dr. Cathryn Tonne to learn about her experiences in running the workshop: 

Can you tell us more about the environmental epidemiology workshop you recently conducted in India?  

It was a week-long short course (Oct 22-26, 2018) focusing specifically on environmental exposure assessment for epidemiology. The rationale was that opportunities for training in epidemiology in India are increasing, but there is still an important gap regarding exposure assessment, a critical component of environmental epidemiology. The course was sponsored by the International Society for Environmental Epidemiology (ISEE) and initiated by the Capacity Building and Education Committee. We partnered with Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) for this inaugural course, with the longer-term aim to work with other ISEE regional chapters and local partners to run the course in different countries going forward. Participants were typically researchers in public or environmental health or atmospheric sciences from India, with one participant from Bangladesh.    

How was the experience conducting the workshop? 

It was a big effort to bring the course to fruition, from the first steps of securing the financing, to preparing the materials, to the execution during the course. Several people from ISEE and PHFI helped make it happen. The overall experience was very positive. The course was very hands on and interactive,with a lot of time for discussion. This was a good opportunity for the teaching faculty to also learn from the participants about what they see as the main priorities in environmental health in India and their challenges as researchers working in the field.

Capacity building has been identified as a key gap in the field of air pollution in India. What was the biggest learning for you and the team? 

In many respects, the capacity is higher for air pollution compared to other exposures, for example pesticides. It is great that there is increasing awareness of the serious public health impact of air pollution in India. My impression is that this is leading to people from the atmospheric sciences (where there is already quite good capacity) to be more interested in crossing over into exposure science. Future capacity building efforts could focus on supporting people in this transition, for example with further training in basic epidemiology, statistics, and principles of exposure assessment.

Are there plans to organize similar workshops in the future? 

The goal in the next few years is for ISEE to run the exposure assessment course again- for example working with the Latin American or African regional ISEE chapters. Also, lectures from the exposure assessment short course in India will be posted on the publicly available ISEEGlobal Education Channel.

Any fun stories from the workshop? 

In one of the practical exercises focusing on low-cost sensors for air quality monitoring, participants walked around the PHFI neighbourhood in Gurgaon collecting PM data with several Dylos (DC1700) and Lascar EL-USB-CO devices. Participants then analysed the data in R including plotting their time series, which triggered some amusing discussion about which of the favourite local Tandoori vendors was responsible for the biggest air pollution peaks.

Any advice for the budding epidemiologists in India? 

Statistics are your friend. Find a way to get further training- not just in terms of programming in a specific software, but in the principles.

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