Graduate Program in Health, Environment and Work (PPGSAT)

The PPGSAT is located at the oldest Medical School of Brazil, in the Federal University of Bahia (Universidade Federal da Bahia - UFBA). The program began activities in 2007 with the inaugural Magna Class entitled “The transposition of the São Francisco River”; bishop Luiz Flávio Cappio, was the invited speaker. This symbolic and important moment set the aim of the PPGSAT towards social dimensions of health in relation to the environment. This perspective has, since then, guided studies focusing on the three themes of health, environment, and work-related issues as well as their scope and potential for the production of knowledge for the necessary to improve society. In the course of its nine-years of operation, the program has graduated eight classes (until 2016), adding up 111 master degrees, and twenty entries annually.  

Our program derives from a connection between professors and researchers interested in the diagnosis and management of problems related to Environmental and Workers’ Health. The research of this group focuses on the interface between health, environment, and work, and relies on an interdisciplinary approach. The projects use a theoretical and political matrix, from the field of Collective Health. The PPGSAT deals with themes that connect the local, the regional, the national and the international dimensions encompassing, among other themes: management of natural resources and their impact on ecosystems; environmental pollution and its multiple effects; the precariousness both of the work-place and working relations, as well as the workers’ and the population’s general health; determining social factors of health, global health, and public policies, in addition to emerging themes such as workers’ rehabilitation, production of environmental technology, and promotion of health.   

The PPGSAT uses conceptual and methodological tools to construct alternative solutions and act on environmental issues and workers’ health in the short, mid and long term. It is essential that these technical and scientific practices are structured within a basis of responsible thinking over developmental models, the apparatus of problem management, public policies, the existing law and institutional foundations, the decision-making processes, and the ways populations and occupational groups perceive risks and organize themselves in order to face them.

Noteworthy are the multidisciplinary experiences which have contributed for the development of PPGSAT, involving faculty members: the Project Ecological Studies of the Recôncavo (Projeto Estudos Ecológicos do Recôncavo - 1976), that brought together professionals from the fields of Analytical Chemistry, Collective Health, and Biology; the Environment Interdisciplinary Group (Núcleo Interdisciplinar do Meio Ambiente - NIMA), part of UFBA (1989), which broadened the initial scope of studies with the participation of researchers from the fields of Sanitary Engineering, Geophysics, Architecture and Business; the Center for Studies in Worker’s Health (Centro de Estudos  da Saúde do Trabalhador), an agency within the State Department of Health of Bahia (CESAT/SESAB) with a relevant role in the procedures of diagnosis and prevention of hazards. Our program also worked with the Ministry of Labour and several Labour Unions (Chemists, Petrochemical workers, oil industry workers, Water and Sewage workers, Teachers, Telecommunications workers).

Highlights from our research include: liver illnesses among workers in the oil industry; prevention of occupational cancer; actions related to the diagnosis and prevention of silicosis due to exposure in gold mining companies; identification hazards related to occupational or environmental exposure to lead in a primary foundry; measurement of injuries due to repetitive movement in several work-related processes (particularly bank tellers, telephone marketing professionals, and workers in the shoe industry); and an extensive study on the coalminers working conditions (coal needed for the steel industry in Bahia).

The research group Integral Health: Health, Work and Functionality (Atenção Integral: Saúde, Trabalho e Funcionalidade) has been active since 2006 and is focused on work disability, steering its projects towards studying and developing health technology to enable workers to return to the work-place. The group is supported by a partnership with CESAT and with the Brazilian Network for Research and Support for the Implementation of Programs in the Rehabilitation and Prevention of Labour Incapacity (Rede Brasileira de Pesquisa e Apoio à Implementação de Programas para Reabilitação e Prevenção da Incapacidade Laboral) led by FUNDACENTRO-SP.

PPGSAT has been preceded by two relevant residency programs, Preventive and Social Medicine and within Occupational Medicine both in the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine in the Medical School of Bahia (Departamento de Medicina Preventiva e Social da Faculdade de Medicina da Bahia – UFBA), created in 1980 and 2004, respectively. From these programs, many professors and researchers in the field have been produced, including some of members of the faculty of PPGSAT.

In the past decades, urbanization and industrialization in Brazil have caused deep demographical, epidemiological and environmental changes that are responsible for the multitude of exposures to which the population impacted by. The growing presence of hazardous pollutants in the air, water and soil, as well as in the food, in the form of additives, pesticides or industrial waste, or from the introduction of new patterns of life, add and/or increase the risk of ill health and the development of new types of hazards still unknown. Occupational and environmental exposures can be mediated by social and anthropological elements making the study of associations and causal relations even more complex. The same applies to the process of conceptualizing and implementing measures to minimize and/or eliminate the risks of environmental and occupational hazards. Despite the existing serious problems concerning Environmental and Worker’s Health in Brazil and in Bahia, there is still a significant shortage of professionals, professors and researchers with background and experience in those fields, whose relevance is widely acknowledged.

Both Brazilian agencies – CNPq and CAPES – have historically sheltered and supported most of the research initiatives under the umbrella of Collective Health within the scope of those themes. However, the articulation of these areas of study is still a great challenge. Therefore, the development of research activities and researchers in programs geared to this complex interface does contribute to confront the significant challenges imposed to collective health regarding both environmental health and workers’ health.