SEGH Articles

Book review: Health protection, Principles and practice

02 July 2017
Τhe interface between the environment and health is a fascinating research topic and has traditionally been the central focus of SEGH. In fact it is this field that brings together geoscientists and medical and public health researchers and practitioners to address health problems caused or exacerbated by environmental hazards and natural disasters.

Edited by Ghebrehewet S, Stewart AG, Baxter D, Shears P, Conrad D, Kliner M. Oxford University Press (2016). 480 pp.

Τhe interface between the environment and health is a fascinating research topic and has traditionally been the central focus of SEGH. In fact it is this field that brings together geoscientists and medical and public health researchers and practitioners to address health problems caused or exacerbated by environmental hazards and natural disasters. However, searching for the right tools for communication between earth scientists and public health professionals can be a difficult task. "Health Protection: Principles and practice" is an excellent resource serving this scope among others. The book is written by specialists in the field of Health Protection in the UK where a multidisciplinary approach is adopted involving local health protection teams acting on both infectious diseases and environmental hazards. As such, although about one half of its chapters concerns infectious diseases, the book takes an inclusive, all-hazards approach and covers extensively environmental hazard control and emergency response to natural disasters, i.e. topics in the realm of common interest and interaction between geoscientists and health professionals.

As a non-specialist in health issues, without a medical background, I found the information presented in the first Section of the book very useful in providing the necessary knowledge basis to follow the case studies and scenarios related to health protection situations presented in the following chapters. The interest for geoscientists builds up from Section 3, where fire and flooding emergency situations are examined, and Section 4 which covers air pollution, cancer and chronic disease - all being typical issues where integration of health studies and environmental investigations is necessary. Section 5 focuses on health protection tools and builds upon well established approaches of environmental geochemistry, e.g. the source-pathway- receptor concept. The parallel presentation of key steps in the investigation and management of incidents arising from communicable disease, emergency response and environmental situations enables the reader to familiarise with the overall approach to public health risk assessment in all three domains. I also found that presentation through real-life scenarios, bullet points and "further thinking" boxes enhance comprehension and contribute to an easy to follow and enjoyable reading experience, which is also supported by up-to-date references.

The final Section of the book gazes into the future and discusses health protection under conditions of environmental, population and technological changes that are being observed and predicted. This section provides plenty food for thought and leads the way for developing new research ideas. The last chapter examines the relationship between health protection and sustainability, a societal challenge addressed through its three pillars of environment, economic development and social equity. The highlight of the book is certainly the comprehensive and succinct health protection checklists presented under the inventive acronym "SIMCARDs". These one-page summaries form the Appendix section and provide practical, quick reference guides for in-practice use as well as an excellent concise knowledge resource for the non-expert on how to identify and manage situations. Nevertheless, as the acronym itself refers to the New Media Age, it might be a good idea to make them available on line through a computer based application, forming a digital companion of a second edition of the book.

In summary, as a geoscientist I would definitely recommend "Health protection, Principles and practice" to anyone working in the interface between the environment and health, whatever their affiliation, and whether academic or practitioner. Especially, coming from a country where interaction between health professionals and environmental geoscientists is still weak, this text has the potential for becoming a valuable guide in achieving a common code for communication and lead the way towards a more integrated approach to health protection.

by Ariadne Argyraki

Associate Professor of Geochemistry

National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece


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