From 2 to 6 November 2015, the Environmental Chemical Pollution and Health (ECPH) Research Unit in the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Pretoria (UP), successfully hosted the first African Conference on the Health Effects of Endocrine Disruptors at the Skukuza Conference Centre in the Kruger National Park. The conference was attended by local and international academics, scientists, key opinion leaders and other stakeholders with an interest in the preservation of the environment, especially with regards to endocrine disrupting elements impacting on wildlife, human health, economics and policy.
Dr Natalie Aneck-Hahn, Director of the ECPH Research Unit, explains that endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are a threat worldwide and that Africa has not escaped the effects of exposure to EDCs. She says that the Faculty of Health Sciences at UP is currently leading research on the occurrence, health effects and projected future health impacts of EDCs on the continent. Within the EDC research focus area, the ECPH Research Unit conducts research on environmental exposure (including through the use of pesticides and plasticisers), and studies its effects on the health of humans and wildlife.
‘The conference addressed the knowledge gaps that exist in this area, as only a fraction of the potential EDCs in the environment are currently understood. This enabled those who attended to better help Africa to help itself and to address research questions that examine not only global issues, but also those that are specific to Africa. The programme featured a range of topics that addressed the current state, as well as new information on human, animal and environmental exposures to EDCs, related health effects and biological screening for endocrine disruption,’ said Dr Aneck-Hahn.
A successful mini-symposium aimed at junior scientists and postgraduate students took place the morning and afternoon before the main conference programme started. The mini-symposium was well attended and included a student mentor session, chaired by Prof Andrea Kortenkamp from Brunel University in the United Kingdom, which allowed participants the opportunity to discuss their thoughts and ideas with the experts.
Highlights of the conference programme included presentations by Prof Riana Bornman (UP), Prof Tiaan de Jager (UP), Prof Laura Vandenberg (University of Massachusetts, USA), Dr Jerry Heindel (National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, USA) and Dr Jacques Auger (Hospital University Paris Centre, France). The official programme began with a keynote address by Prof Riana Bornman on ‘EDCs and Africa: a major challenge’. Other key speakers included Prof Anna-Maria Andersson (Copenhagen University Hospital, Denmark) and Prof Janice Bailey (Laval University, Quebec, Canada).
Local and international delegates all had a positive experience as the conference provided an excellent setting for intellectual development. The conference provided a platform for delegates to learn from each other and to find ways to work together to limit exposures to EDCs in developing countries, both now and in years to come.