Skip to main content
Log in

Ecosystem Approaches to Health for a Global Sustainability Agenda

  • Forum
  • Published:
EcoHealth Aims and scope Submit manuscript

Abstract

International research agendas are placing greater emphasis on the need for more sustainable development to achieve gains in global health. Research using ecosystem approaches to health, and the wider field of ecohealth, contribute to this goal, by addressing health in the context of inter-linked social and ecological systems. We review recent contributions to conceptual development of ecosystem approaches to health, with insights from their application in international development research. Various similar frameworks have emerged to apply the approach. Most predicate integration across disciplines and sectors, stakeholder participation, and an articulation of sustainability and equity to achieve relevant actions for change. Drawing on several frameworks and on case studies, a model process for application of ecosystem approaches is proposed, consisting of an iterative cycles of participatory study design, knowledge generation, intervention, and systematization of knowledge. The benefits of the research approach include innovations that improve health, evidence-based policies that reduce health risks; empowerment of marginalized groups through knowledge gained, and more effective engagement of decision makers. With improved tools to describe environmental and economic dimensions, and explicit strategies for scaling-up the use and application of research results, the field of ecohealth will help integrate both improved health and sustainability into the development agenda.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Figure 1

Similar content being viewed by others

References

  • Anonymous (2012) Global Health in 2012: development to sustainability. Lancet 379:193

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Basso C (2010) Abordaje ecosistémico para prevenir y controlar al vector del dengue en Uruguay, Montevideo, Uruguay: Universidad de la República. http://idl-bnc.idrc.ca/dspace/bitstream/10625/44496/1/130954_2.pdf. Accessed April 2, 2012

  • Bennett G, Jessani N (2011) The Knowledge Translation Toolkit: Bridging the Know-Do Gap: A Resource for Researchers, Ottawa, Canada: International Development Research Centre and New Delhi, India: Sage Publications. http://web.idrc.ca/openebooks/508-3/. Accessed April 2, 2012

  • Berkes F, Folke C (1998) Linking Social and Ecological Systems. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press

    Google Scholar 

  • Bezner-Kerr R, Berti PR, Shumba L (2011) Effects of a participatory agriculture and nutrition education project on child growth in northern Malawi. Public Health Nutrition 14(8):1466-1472

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Boischio A, Sánchez A, Orosz Z, Charron D (2009) Health and sustainable development: challenges and opportunities of ecosystem approaches in the prevention and control of dengue and Chagas disease. Cadernos de Saúde Publica 25(Suppl. 1):S149–S154

    Google Scholar 

  • Bonet M, Spiegel JM, Ibarra AM, Kouri G, Pintre A, Yassi A (2007) An integrated ecosystem approach for sustainable prevention and control of dengue in Central Havana. International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health 13(2):188-194

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Bopp M, Bopp J (2004) Welcome to the Swamp: Addressing Community Capacity in Ecohealth Research and Intervention. EcoHealth 1 (Suppl. 2): 24–34

    Google Scholar 

  • Brundtland G (1987) Our Common Future: The World Commission on Environment and Development, Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press

    Google Scholar 

  • Bunch MJ, Morley D (2009) Using Outcome Mapping to Consolidate Learning and Ensure Sustainability in an EcoHealth Project. Final Report to the International Development Research Centre. http://idl-bnc.idrc.ca/dspace/bitstream/10625/46349/1/132844.pdf. Accessed July 10, 2012

  • Bunch M, McCarthy D, Waltner-Toews D (2008) A family of origin for an ecosystem approach to managing for sustainability. In: The Ecosystem Approach: Complexity, Uncertainty, and Managing for Sustainability, Waltner-Toews D, Kay J, Lister N-M (editors), New York: Columbia University Press, pp 125–138

    Google Scholar 

  • Bustamante DM, Monroy C, Pineda S, Rodas A, Castro X, Ayala V, Quiñónes J, Moguel B, Trampe R (2009) Risk factors for intradomiciliary infestation by the Chagas disease vector Triatoma dimidiata in Jutiapa, Guatemala. Cadernos de Saúde Publica, 25 (Suppl. 1):S83-92

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Butler CD, Weinstein P (2011) Global ecology, global health, ecohealth. EcoHealth 8(3):253-254

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Charron DF (2012) Ecohealth Research in Practice: Innovative Applications of an Ecosystem Approach to Health, Insight and Innovation in Development, New York: Springer and Ottawa, Canada: International Development Research Centre

  • Chevalier JM, Buckles DJ (2008) SAS 2: A Guide to Collaborative Inquiry and Social Engagement, Thousand Oaks, CA, USA: Sage Publications and Ottawa, Canada: International Development Research Centre. http://www.idrc.ca/en/ev-130303-201-1-DO_TOPIC.html, http://www.sas2.net/. Accessed April 2, 2012

  • Cole DC, Orozco T F, Pradel W, Suquillo J, Mera X, Chacon A, Prain G, Wanigaratne S, Leah J (2011) An agriculture and health inter-sectorial research process to reduce hazardous pesticide health impacts among smallholder farmers in the Andes. BMC International & Health Human Rights 11(Suppl.2):S6

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • de Savigny D, Adam T (2009) Systems Thinking for Health Systems Strengthening, Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization. http://whqlibdoc.who.int/publications/2009/9789241563895_eng.pdf. Accessed July 10, 2012

  • Díaz C, Torres Y, Cruz AM, Alvarez AM, Piquero ME, Valero A, Fuentes O (2009) An inter-sector participatory strategy in Cuba using an ecosystem approach to prevent dengue transmission at the local level, Cadernos de Saúde Publica 25(suppl. 1): S59-70 (in Spanish)

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Dolbec J, Mergler D, Sousa Passos CJ, Sousa de Morais S, Lebel J (2000) Methylmercury Exposure Affects Motor Performance of a Riverine Population of the Tapajós River, Brazilian Amazon. International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health, 73: 195–203

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Dolbec J, Mergler D, Larribe B, Roulet M, Lebel J, Lucotte M (2001) Sequential Analysis of Hair Mercury Levels in Relation to Fish Diet of an Amazonian Population Brazil. Science of the Total Environment, 271:87–97

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Earl S, Carden F, Smutylo T (2001) Outcome Mapping: Building Learning and Reflection into Development Programs, Ottawa, Canada: International Development Research Centre. http://www.idrc.ca/en/ev-9330-201-1-DO_TOPIC.html. Accessed April 2, 2012

  • Forget G, Lebel J (2001) An ecosystem approach to human health. International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health, 7(Suppl.2):S3-38

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Guimarães JRD, Mergler D, (2012) A virtuous cycle in the Amazon: Reducing mercury exposure from fish consumption requires sustainable agriculture. In: Ecohealth Research in Practice: Innovative Applications of an Ecosystem Approach to Health, Charron DF (editor), Insight and Innovation in Development, New York, NY: Springer and Ottawa, Canada: International Development Research Centre, pp 109–118

  • Gürtler RE (2009) Sustainability of vector control strategies in the Gran Chaco Region: current challenges and possible approaches. Memórias do Instituto Oswaldo Cruz 104(Suppl. 1), 52-59

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Iriart C, Waitzkin H, Breilh J, Estrada A, Merhy EE (2002) Medicina social latinoamericana: aportes y desafíos. Revista Panamericana de Salud Pública 12(2): 128–136

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Joshi DD, Sharma M, Waltner-Toews D (2012) Rebuilding urban ecosystems for better community health in Kathmandu. In: Ecohealth Research in Practice: Innovative Applications of an Ecosystem Approach to Health, Charron DF (editor), Insight and Innovation in Development, New York, NY: Springer and Ottawa, Canada: International Development Research Centre, pp 191–202

  • Koné B, Feagan M, Houenou YA, Brou N, Houenou PV, Fayomi B, Ngnikam E, Cissé G, Spiegel J, Kouassi E (2011) Facilitating the Relationship Between Researchers and Policy-Makers: Experiences from Three Ecohealth Projects in West and Central Africa. EcoHealth 8(4): 413-417

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Lebel J, Roulet M, Mergler D, Lucotte M, Larribe F (1997) Fish Diet and Mercury Exposure in a Riparian Amazonian Population. Water Air and Soil Pollution 97: 31–44

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Lebel J, Mergler D, Branches F, Lucotte M, Amorim M, Larribe F, Dolbec J (1998) Neurotoxic Effects of Low-Level Methylmercury Contamination in the Amazonian Basin. Environmental Research 79: 20–32

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Lemire M, Fillion M, Frenette B, Mayer A, Philibert A, Passos CJS, Guimarães, JRD, Barbosa F Jr, Mergler D (2010) Selenium and Mercury in the Brazilian Amazon: Opposing Influences on Age-Related Cataracts. Environmental Health Perspectives 118:1584–1589

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • MacIntyre A (2008) Participatory Action Research, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications

    Google Scholar 

  • Mertens F, Saint-Charles J, Mergler D, Passos CJ, Lucotte M (2005) A Network Approach for Analysing and Promoting Equity in Participatory Ecohealth Research. EcoHealth 2: 113–126.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mertens F, Saint-Charles J, Mergler D (2012) Social communication network analysis of the role of participatory research in the adoption of new fish consumption behaviors. Social Science and Medicine 75(4):643–650. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bbr.2011.03.031. Accessed July 10, 2012.

  • Monroy C, Bustamante DM, Pineda S, Rodas A, Castro X, Ayala V, Quiñonez J, and Moguel B (2009) House Improvements and Community Participation in the Control of Triatoma dimidiata Re-Infestation in Jutiapa, Guatemala. Cadernos de Saúde Pública 25 (Suppl. 1): S168–S178

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Neudoerffer RC, Waltner-Toews D, Kay JJ, Joshi DD, Tamang MS (2005) A Diagrammatic approach to understanding complex eco-social interactions in Kathmandu, Nepal. Ecology and Society, 10(2):Article 12. http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol10/iss2/art12/. Accessed April 2, 2012

  • Neudoerffer RC, Waltner-Toews D, Kay JJ (2008) Return to Kathmandu, A Post Hoc Application of AMESH. In: Waltner-Toews D, Kay JJ, Lister NME (Editors), The Ecosystem Approach: Complexity, Uncertainty, and Managing for Sustainability, New York, NY: Columbia University Press, pp 257-288

    Google Scholar 

  • Ngnikam E, Tanawa E (2011) Eau et santé : Réconcilier l’eau, l’assainissement et la santé par l’approche ECOSANTE, Belfort : Université de Technologies de Belfort-Montbéliard

    Google Scholar 

  • Nyangaga JN, Grace D, Kimani V, Kiragu MW, Langat AK, Mbugua G, Mitoko G, Kang’ethe EK (2012) Outcome mapping for fostering and measuring change in risk management behaviour among urban dairy farmers in Nairobi, Kenya. Tropical Animal Health and Production. doi:10.1007/s11250-012-0206-1

  • Parkes MW (2011) Diversity, emergence, resilience: guides for a new generation of ecohealth research and practice. EcoHealth 8(2):137-139

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Parkes MW, Horwitz P (2009) Water, ecology and health: ecosystems as settings for promoting health and sustainability. Health Promotion International 24(1):94-102

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Parkes M, Panelli R, Weinstein P (2003) Converging Paradigms for Environmental Health Theory and Practice. Environmental Health Perspectives 111: 669-675

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Parkes MW, Bienen L, Breilh J, Hsu LN, McDonald M, Patz JA, Rosenthal JP, Sahani M, Sleigh A, Waltner-Toews D, Yassi A (2005) All Hands on Deck: Transdisciplinary Approaches to Emerging Infectious Disease. EcoHealth 2(4): 258–272

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Parkes MW, Morrison KE, Bunch MJ, Hallström LK, Neudoerffer RC, Venema HD, Waltner-Toews D (2010) Towards integrated governance for water, health and social-ecological systems: the watershed governance prism. Global Environmental Change 20(4):693–704

    Google Scholar 

  • Parkes MW, Charron DF, Sanchez A (2012) Better together: field-building networks at the frontiers of ecohealth research. In: Ecohealth Research in Practice: Innovative Applications of an Ecosystem Approach to Health, Charron DF (editor), Insight and Innovation in Development, New York, NY: Springer and Ottawa, Canada: International Development Research Centre, pp 231–253

  • Passos CJ, Mergler D, Fillion M, Lemire M, Mertens M, Guimarães JRD, Philibert A (2007) Epidemiologic Confirmation that Fruit Consumption Influences Mercury Exposure in Riparian Communities in the Brazilian Amazon. Environmental Research 105: 183–193

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Pohl C, Hirsch Hadorn G (2008) Methodological Challenges of Transdisciplinary Research. Natures Sciences Sociétés 16: 111–121

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rapport DJ (2007) Sustainability Science: an Ecohealth Perspective. Sustainability Science 2(1):77-84

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rosenfield PL (1992) The potential of transdisciplinary research for sustaining and extending linkages between the health and social sciences. Social Science and Medicine 35(11):1343-1357

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Roulet M, Lucotte M, Farella N, Serique G, Coelho H, Passos CJ, De Jesus Da Silva ED, de Andrade PS, Mergler D, Guimarães JRD, Amorim M (1999) Effects of Recent Human Colonization on the Presence of Mercury in Amazonian Ecosystems. Water Air and Soil Pollution, 112: 297–313

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Saint-Charles J, Rioux-Pelletier M-E, Mertens F, Mongeau P (2012) Diffusing environmental health innovations: the role of sex- and gender-differentiated pathways. In: What a Difference Sex and Gender Make: A Gender, Sex and Health Research Casebook, Ottawa, Canada: Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Institute of Gender and Health. http://www.cihr-irsc.gc.ca/e/documents/What_a_Difference_Sex_and_Gender_Make-en.pdf#page=84. Accessed July 12, 2012

  • Snapp SS, Blackie MJ, Gilbert RA, Bezner-Kerr R, Kanyama-Phiri GY (2010) Biodiversity can support a greener revolution in Africa. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107(48):20840-20845

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Social, Technological and Environmental Pathways to Sustainability (STEPS) Centre (2010) Innovation, Sustainability, Development: A New Manifesto. Brighton, UK: STEPS Centre. http://anewmanifesto.org/wp-content/uploads/steps-manifesto_small-file.pdf. Accessed April 2, 2012

  • Soskolne CL, Butler CD, Ijsselmuiden C, London L, von Schirnding Y (2007) Toward a global agenda for research in environmental epidemiology. Epidemiology 18(1): 162–166

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Straus SE, Tetroe JM, Graham ID (2011) Knowledge translation is the use of knowledge in health care decision making. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology 64(1):6-10

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Waage J, Banerji R, Campbell O, Chirwa E, Collender G, Dieltiens V, Dorward A, Godfrey-Faussett P, Hanvoravongchai P, Kingdon G, Little A, Mills A, Mulholland K, Mwinga A, North A, Patcharanarumol W, Poulton C, Tangcharoensathien V, Unterhalter E (2010) The Millennium Development Goals: a cross-sectoral analysis and principles for goal setting after 2015. Lancet and London International Development Centre Commission. Lancet 376(9745):991-1023.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Waitzkin H, Iriart C, Estrada A, Lamadrid S (2001) Social Medicine Then and Now: Lessons from Latin America. American Journal of Public Health 91(10): 1592–1601

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Waltner-Toews, D (2004) Ecosystem Sustainability and Health: A Practical Approach, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Waltner-Toews D, Kay J (2005) The Evolution of an Ecosystem Approach: The Diamond Schematic and an Adaptive Methodology for Ecosystem Sustainability and Health. Ecology and Society 10(1): 38

    Google Scholar 

  • Waltner-Toews D, Kay JJ, Neudoerffer C, Gitau T (2003) Perspective changes everything: managing ecosystems from the inside out. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 1(1):23–30

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Waltner-Toews D, Neudoerffer C, Joshi DD, Tamang MS (2005) Agro-Urban Ecosystem Health Assessment in Kathmandu, Nepal: Epidemiology, Systems, Narratives. EcoHealth 2(2):155–164

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Waltner-Toews D, Kay JJ, Lister NME (2008) The Ecosystem Approach: Complexity, Uncertainty, and Managing for Sustainability, New York, NY: Columbia University Press

    Google Scholar 

  • Webb JC, Mergler D, Parkes MW, Saint-Charles J, Spiegel J, Waltner-Toews D, Yassi A, Woollard RF (2010) Tools for thoughtful action: the role of ecosystem approaches to health in enhancing public health. Canadian Journal of Public Health 101(6):439-41

    Google Scholar 

  • Wilcox B, Kueffer C (2008) Transdisciplinarity in EcoHealth: Status and Future Prospects. EcoHealth 5:1–3

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Williams B, Hummelbrunner R (2010) Systems Concepts in Action: A Practitioner’s Toolkit, Paolo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press

    Google Scholar 

  • World Health Organization (1986) Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion, Geneva, Switzerland: WHO. http://www.who.int/healthpromotion/conferences/previous/ottawa/en/. Accessed April 2, 2012

  • World Health Organization (2002) Gender Analysis in Health: A Review of Selected Tools, Geneva, Switzerland: WHO. http://www.who.int/gender/documents/en/Gender.analysis.pdf. Accessed April 2, 2012

  • World Health Organization (2012), Global report for research on infectious diseases of poverty 2012, Geneva, Switzerland: WHO. http://whqlibdoc.who.int/publications/2012/9789241564489_eng.pdf. Accessed April 17, 2012

Download references

Acknowledgments

This paper draws on the book, Ecohealth Research in Practice: Innovative Applications of an Ecosystem Approach to Health, edited by the Dominique Charron and co-published by Springer and the International Development Research Centre, Canada. V. Nguyen contributed to an early draft of this paper.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Dominique Frances Charron.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Charron, D.F. Ecosystem Approaches to Health for a Global Sustainability Agenda. EcoHealth 9, 256–266 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10393-012-0791-5

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Revised:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10393-012-0791-5

Keywords

Navigation