Resilience to environmental change, emerging health threats and emergencies was one of NHMRC's strategic priorities for action in 2018–2021. NHMRC delivered on this priority by boosting research capacity and capability through a special initiative that would improve Australia’s preparedness and responsiveness to human health threats from changing environmental conditions and extreme weather events.

NHMRC opened a Special initiative in Human Health and Environmental Change on 18 November 2020. Applications closed on 7 April 2021.

About the Special Initiative


NHMRC hosted a stakeholder workshop in 2019 to understand past investments in human health and environmental change research, key areas of research need and how a strategic investment by NHMRC could best contribute to this priority area. NHMRC also consulted its Research Committee and Council, whose membership includes Commonwealth, state and territory chief medical officers, to identify the best model to facilitate and support collaborative research.

Objectives and outcomes

NHMRC's Special Initiative in Human Health and Environmental Change (SIHHEC) aimed to provide a catalytic stimulus to improve Australia's current capability and capacity in human health and environmental change research, by supporting a single, multidisciplinary, nationally focused, collaborative network of researchers across Australia. The work of this network will help to protect the health of the Australian community and build a resilient and responsive health system.

The objective of the SIHHEC was to strengthen the Australian health system's resilience, preparedness and responsiveness to changing environmental conditions and extreme weather events by establishing a collaborative, multidisciplinary network that builds national research capacity and capability in human health and environmental change, with a focus on one or more of the following areas:

  • improving data sets and linkages needed to measure and evaluate the health-related impacts of environmental change at the individual and population level
  • improving current understanding of the complex interactions between primary, secondary and tertiary health effects of environmental and climate change (such as direct injury, changes to vector-borne diseases and increased air pollution, and social and economic disruption, respectively), as well as the interaction of changing environmental conditions with health inequity and inequality
  • assessing the health risks–both direct and indirect–and health system needs/costs associated with environmental change and extreme weather events, particularly over the long term, in vulnerable population groups and in affected regions, and/or
  • stimulating innovative solutions, developing evidence-based mitigation and adaptation plans, and conducting health-focused cost-benefit analyses of strategies that address the health impacts of environmental change.

To meet this objective, the network will be expected to:

  • involve researchers from different fields and institutions, not limited to health and medical research, and existing national and international networks in the research effort to foster multidisciplinary research collaboration, and
  • engage and build cross-sectoral partnerships with research end-users (for example, affected communities, policymakers and health system professionals) throughout the grant period, including:
    • during its first year, to refine the research questions and establish collaborative arrangements for undertaking the research, and
    • subsequently, to translate research outcomes into health policy and/or practice.

The intended outcomes of the SIHHEC were:

  • increased research capacity and capability in the field of human health and environmental change
  • a significant increase in our understanding of the health impacts and future health system needs and costs associated with environmental change and extreme weather events in Australia, particularly over the long term and for higher risk groups/regions
  • a strong evidence base to support public health messaging and health sector preparedness and responsiveness to environmental change, including practical strategies and advice that could be used by Australian health system planners, professionals and policy-makers
  • strong ties between research groups from relevant disciplines, research end-users and funders to ensure the effective communication and translation of research efforts and to provide the foundations for ongoing, coordinated national effort beyond the term of the grant.