Resetting our priorities in environmental health: An example from the south-north partnership in Lake Chapala, Mexico
Lake Chapala is a major source of water for crop irrigation and subsistence fishing for a population of 300,000 people in central Mexico. Economic activities have created increasing pollution and pressure on the whole watershed resources. Previous reports of mercury concentrations detected in fish caught in Lake Chapala have raised concerns about health risks to local families who rely on fish for both their livelihood and traditional diet. Our own data has indicated that 27% of women of childbearing age have elevated hair mercury levels, and multivariable analysis indicated that frequent consumption of carp (i.e., once a week or more) was associated with significantly higher hair mercury concentrations. In this paper we describe a range of environmental health research projects. Our main priorities are to build the necessary capacities to identify sources of water pollution, enhance early detection of environmental hazardous exposures, and deliver feasible health protection measures targeting children and pregnant women. Our projects are led by the Children's Environmental Health Specialty Unit nested in the University of Guadalajara, in collaboration with the Department of Environmental Health of Harvard School of Public Health and Department of Pediatrics of the New York School of Medicine. Our partnership focuses on translation of knowledge, building capacity, advocacy and accountability. Communication will be enhanced among women's advocacy coalitions and the Ministries of Environment and Health. We see this initiative as an important pilot program with potential to be strengthened and replicated regionally and internationally.