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Children’s Hospital Sends Medical Team to Mongolia

Dr. David Warburton

Mongolia’s economic growth rate in 2012 was 12.3 percent—one of the highest in the world—mostly because of exports of its vast natural resources. Growth has caused rapid urbanization, and a transition out of a mainly nomadic society. These changes have resulted in serious health problems that Mongolia currently lacks the capacity to address. International support has come from volunteers, including a team of physicians and healthcare professionals from Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA).

For the last 15 years, Dr. David Warburton of CHLA’s Saban Research Institute has been volunteering in Mongolia’s capital city, Ulaan Baatar, and the surrounding Gobi Desert.

Along with CHLA physicians  Drs. Richard Mackenzie, Lawrence Ross, Stuart Siegel, Andreas Reiff, Masato Takahashi and Marilyn Woo, this group has helped improve treatment in children’s cancer, cardiology, dysmorphology/genetics, infectious diseases, intensive care, neonatology, pulmonology, and rheumatology at the National Center for Maternal and Child Health (NCMCH) in Ulaan Baatar.

With their support, the NCMCH has become a cleaner, better-equipped, and technically more advanced academic medical center.

Recently, Warburton and colleagues received a five-year $1.25 million grant from the Fogarty International Center of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences to continue their research on air pollution and to build capacity among child-health experts and government agencies in Mongolia.

“Mongolians are wonderful, smart, warm people,” says Warburton. “They listen to and appreciate our advice and are acting on it as GDP has risen and resources become increasingly available in their country. We have seen impressive changes over the past decade and now look forward to more capacity building and implementation over the coming five years of implementation over the coming five years of NIH-supported work. We hope to have a major impact on urban pollution and the health of women and children in Mongolia.”

Of the difficulties that urbanization presents to children’s health, rising air pollution is of major importance. The health effects from urban air pollution have been calculated to cost Mongolia 4 percent of GDP.

During winter in Ulaan Baatar, atmospheric particulate levels are more than 250-fold above the recommended levels because of factors including the burning of unrefined coal in stoves used to heat the traditional round felt tents, called gers.  Increasing vehicular traffic and power plants also contribute to the dangerously high carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide levels in the air.

Warburton works toward improving health in Mongolia through a multitude of avenues. He recently traveled to Washington D.C. for a joint meeting between the Chronic Non-Communicable Diseases and Disorders and the Tobacco Research Training programs at the NIH, and participated in the fourth annual Consortium of Universities for Global Health conference, “Global Health: Innovation, Implementation, Impact.”

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