Public health researchers develop drought response guide

Jesse Bell, PhD, and Rachel Lookadoo, JD

Jesse Bell, PhD, and Rachel Lookadoo, JD

From worsening water quality to respiratory and metal health impacts, drought can have profound and widespread impacts on the health of communities across the nation.

To better prepare health professionals’ response to these impacts, a UNMC College of Public Health research team recently released a guide to assist health care providers and public health officials in communicating about the health risks of drought with their patients and communities.

“Drought is often overlooked as a human health threat in the United States,” said co-author, Jesse Bell, PhD, Claire M. Hubbard Professor of Water, Climate and Health. “However, we are starting to better identify the health impacts of drought. For example, our team has identified increases in respiratory mortality, heat-related mortality and reported stress associated with drought events.”

The guide is a product of a multi-year effort supported by NOAA’s National Integrated Drought Information System, the NASA Health & Air Quality Program and the Claire M. Hubbard Foundation.

“Through our previous outreach work, we were able to hear about some of the fantastic research being conducted relating to drought and health across the country,” said Rachel Lookadoo, JD, assistant professor in the department of environmental, agricultural and occupational health at the UNMC College of Public Health and co-author of the guide. “There was an apparent need, however, to translate that research into practical tools that could lead to better health outcomes in drought-stricken communities. This messaging framework was created to be just such a tool.”

Incorporating contributions from an interdisciplinary team of experts representing health care, public health, mental and behavioral health and health communication, the guide includes practical steps and guidance that health professionals can take to discuss drought with their patients and communities.

The research team hopes that this guide will be a building block for future research and outreach on the health impacts of drought and other climate-related disasters.

“We need to continue to get feedback from public health and health care providers on drought issues to improve information sharing and communication tool development,” Dr. Bell said. “We also need to continue to research the relationships of drought impacts on human health.”

“Drought and Health: A Messaging Framework for Public Health Professionals and Healthcare Providers” is available online. For more information, please contact Summer Woolsey or visit the Water, Climate and Health Program.

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