September 26, 2008

Dean Barbara K. Rimer is introduced to a falcon by her host, H.E. Majid Al Mansouri, Secretary General of the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi.

Dean Barbara K. Rimer is introduced to a falcon by her host, H.E. Majid Al Mansouri, Secretary General of the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi.

The United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.), one of the fastest developing nations in the world, has signed a two-year contract with researchers from the School to lead an assessment of health risks due to environmental factors in the country. The contract is for $12.1 million, about $9 million of which will be earmarked for the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.

UNC researchers are partnering with U.A.E. University’s Department of Community Medicine and with the RAND Corp., a global public policy research institution. This group will work with the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi and its national partners, the Health Authority-Abu Dhabi, U.A.E. Ministry of Health, U.A.E. Ministry of Environment and Water, Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority and Health Authority- Dubai.

The U.A.E. is a Middle Eastern federation of seven states, situated on the Arabian Gulf, bordering Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Oman. The country, with a population of about 4.3 million, has a highly industrialized economy and significant oil and natural gas reserves.

“The U.A.E. is developing at an unprecedented pace and scale,” says principal investigator Dr. Jacqueline MacDonald, UNC assistant professor of environmental sciences and engineering. “In the past 40 years, it has gone from a small, mostly nomadic and seafaring economy to a major industrial nation. While all the developments have brought some vast improvements in public health, they’ve also brought some concerns about risks due to environmental hazards that come with an industrialized economy.”

MacDonald leads a research team that will assess environmental health risks and use the results of these analyses to help United Arab Emirates set priorities and develop policies for mitigating health risks. The work will involve collecting data, working with local stakeholders to prioritize risks from environmental exposures; and developing computer-based models to estimate impact of environmental exposures and the burden of disease caused by the most important risk factors, including both indoor and outdoor air pollution (especially emissions stemming from oil and gas production), water pollution (both coastal and groundwater), and exposures to hazardous substances in the workplace. At the same time, the larger-scale epidemiologic study will be conducted to provide a nationwide assessment of possible links between the environment and the health of people living there.

For more information on our work with the United Arab Emirates, visit

— Ramona Dubose

Carolina Public Health is a publication of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Public Health. To subscribe to Carolina Public Health or to view the entire Fall 2008 issue in PDF, visit