Human health was identified in the International Council for Science (ICSU) Strategic Plan (2006–2011) as a new research priority, with the stated goal “to ensure that health considerations are duly taken into account in the planning and execution of future activities by building on the relevant strengths of Scientific Unions and Interdisciplinary Bodies.”
To more clearly define how ICSU might contribute to science for human health, a scoping group was established in 2006. The role of the scoping group was to consider the health initiatives already being developed within the ICSU community and identify additional areas or approaches where ICSU might add value to these initiatives.
The scoping group identified that a number of ICSU’s Scientific Unions and Interdisciplinary Bodies had begun developing an initiative on science for health and well-being from as early as 2002. And in 2007, the Earth Systems Science Partnership, which brought together ICSU’s global environmental change programmes, published a science plan for global environmental change and human health. At the same time, the ICSU Regional Office for Africa had carried out an analysis of health research needs for the continent. These initiatives reflect an increasing awareness and interest, in both the policy and research realms, of links between modern urban human ecology and the risks of a range of adverse health outcomes.
After consultation with the ICSU scientific community, a new planning group was established in 2008 to carry forward ideas identified in the scoping exercise. The result was the present science plan that proposes an innovative conceptual framework for considering the multi-factorial nature of both the determinants and the manifestations of health and well-being in global urban populations. In addition to stimulating specific research projects, a new science programme for urban health and well-being (UHWB) was mandated to focus on:
- Developing new methodologies and identifying data needs and knowledge gaps.
- Building and strengthening scientific capacity.
- Facilitating communication and outreach.
In so doing, the activities of the UHWB programme are meant to:
- Promote a systems approach to human health and well-being in a changing urban environment among scientists and decision-makers.
- Strengthen capacity to conduct research on human health and well-being in a changing urban environment using a systems approach.
- Advocate for funding systems approaches for human health and well-being in changing urban environments.
- Enhance understanding of urban health and well-being issues across disciplines and sectors.
- Mediate science and technology alliances for implementing smart technology solutions for urban health and well-being.
- Influence the international agenda to encompass urban health initiatives.
In line with the ‘standard’ ICSU model for programme implementation, these activities were to be overseen and guided by a dedicated international, interdisciplinary Scientific Committee and an IPO established to ensure effective implementation. This was envisaged as a 10-year initiative, to allow sufficient time for the research and policy communities concerned with urban health and well-being to adopt systems analysis approaches.
In 2011, the General Assembly of ICSU endorsed plans for the new global initiative “Health and Wellbeing in the Changing Urban Environment: a Systems Analysis Approach”. In 2014, the IPO was opened in Xiamen, China, hosted by the Institute of Urban Environment (IUE) at the CAS, providing a hub for interdisciplinary scientific knowledge development, exchange and communication.