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  • Writer's pictureEivind Engebretsen

What is the Sustainable Health Unit (SUSTAINIT)?

The Sustainable Health Unit (SUSTAINIT) is a knowledge hub located at the Faculty of Medicine (UiO), established by the Faculty Board on December 13, 2022, with the aim of promoting interdisciplinary approaches to sustainable health research and education.


In this blog post, I outline our objectives and the benefits we offer to the academic community at the University of Oslo and beyond.



Photo by Ernst Kristian Rødland


Health and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

The United Nations' approval of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015 marked a shift towards a more comprehensive, equitable, and integrated approach to health. In particular, the SDGs aim to address the root causes of poor health outcomes, such as poverty, lack of access to safe water and sanitation, and environmental degradation. This approach has implications for how we deal with global health issues, such as pandemics, and how we educate future health professionals. Importantly, the SDGs call for interdisciplinary collaboration and integration between health research and education and other relevant fields.



The aims of SUSTAINIT

The Sustainable Health Unit (SUSTAINIT) examines the impact of sustainable development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on health research and professional education. Its objectives are:

  • To advance education and research that fosters critical thinking and expands understanding of sustainability and the significance of SDGs in healthcare.

  • To foster collaboration between research, education, and capacity-building initiatives.

  • To encourage interdisciplinary dialogue and collaboration.

  • To play a leading role and contribute to international collaborations at UiO, including the European University Alliance Circle U, on these topics.


Three centres


SUSTAINIT is comprised of three centers:


Centre for Sustainable Healthcare Education (SHE)

The Centre for Sustainable Healthcare Education (SHE) is a Center of Excellence in Education funded for a period of 5+5 years by the Norwegian Directorate of Higher Education. Its primary aim is to stimulate critical thinking among future healthcare professionals regarding the concept and implications of sustainability in healthcare and specifically, how the SDGs influence healthcare decision-making.


To encourage a critical approach to sustainability, SHE leverages and expands upon a framework of competencies for sustainable development created by UNESCO, adapting it for use in healthcare professional education.


The center operates a Student Fellowship Program, inviting students to tackle SDG challenges in collaboration with partners within or outside the university and to contribute to the development of teaching programs on these topics. Additionally, SHE offers various courses and programs on sustainability in healthcare education and produces a range of learning resources.





Centre for Global Health (CGH)

The Centre for Global Health (CGH) is dedicated to promoting research communication, capacity development, and training in the field of global health. It serves as a hub for connecting global health research and capacity development initiatives. The center provides a meeting space and a showcase for ongoing global health research activities at the Faculty of Medicine, as well as those in collaboration with other units at UiO and the Oslo University Hospital (OUS), including partners locally and internationally.


The CGH links to global health initiatives both within and outside of academia, including policymakers in Norway and worldwide. It manages the Research Excellence and Innovation in Global Health (RELIGHT) funding scheme, which offers seed funding for interdisciplinary global health research projects. The center is also the proud host of the Norwegian secretariat for The Lancet One Health Commission.


To expand its reach into the realm of global health, the CGH has invited established and globally recognized UiO professors to integrate their primary areas of expertise into four cross-disciplinary themes: Gender, Digital Health, Ethics, and Policy/Peace. The center is also involved in several global networks, including Women in Global Health, the Norwegian Planetary Health Alliance, and a strategic mobility and academic partnership program with Ethiopia.


Centre for Pandemics

The Pandemic Centre is a hub that brings together researchers from diverse disciplines across UiO to develop research relevant to future pandemics. The center funds interdisciplinary research teams that work on specific topics. Each team consists of 3 dedicated researchers who allocate 30% of their time to a joint research project. The Pandemic Centre will also recruit a group of students to assist the research teams and support dissemination activities.


The center aims to develop a catalog of pandemic competencies at UiO, monitor funding opportunities, and organize events and meeting spaces for students and researchers.



The added value of SUSTAINIT

The benefits of grouping the three centers under SUSTAINIT are clear. Although each center focuses on themes related to sustainability and the SDGs, they have a complementary focus. As a Center of Excellence in Education, SHE primarily focuses on developing innovative teaching methods, while the Center for Global Health prioritizes capacity building and research dissemination. The new Pandemic Center, on the other hand, concentrates on interdisciplinary research.


For example, the SUSTAINIT model can provide research teams at the Pandemic Center with the opportunity to engage students through SHE and expand relevant projects into the field of global health through the Center for Global Health. The centers also stand to benefit from each other's networks and open doors to different parts of the surrounding ecosystem.




What does SUSTAINIT offer to the academic community?


SUSTAINIT offers a range of benefits to the academic community, including:


Funding opportunities

SUSTAINIT provides seed funding for interdisciplinary research projects, mobility programs, innovative teaching initiatives, and partnerships with universities, organizations, and institutions globally, including in the Global South.


Sustainability in Medical Education

Through the Centre of Excellence in Education, SHE, SUSTAINIT offers courses and modules on education for sustainable development, including a new Honours programme set to launch in 2023. This programme provides students with an understanding of the pedagogical principles and tools aimed at building capabilities needed to tackle the challenges to sustainable health and healthcare.


Interdisciplinary meeting places

SUSTAINIT will create various opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration and matchmaking among staff and students with interests in pandemics, global health, and sustainability in education.


Global networks

Through the Centre for Global Health, SUSTAINIT participates in and contributes to international networks, including the Strategic Mobility and Academic Partnership Programme with Ethiopia, Women in Global Health, and the Norwegian Planetary Health Alliance.


Mobility programmes

SUSTAINIT offers mobility opportunities for students, including the upcoming SHE-WHO mobility scheme for MA and MD students. Through this programme, MA and MD students will have the chance to work on real-world projects in partnership with the WHO, gaining insight and familiarity with the WHO system.


Sustainability in health courses

SUSTAINIT provides several courses on sustainability in health through SHE and the Centre for Global Health. The offerings include a two-week course titled "Climate Change and Health," as described in this comment in the Lancet Planetary Health, and a groundbreaking international course on the "Politics of Sustainability", accessible to students within the Circle U alliance.


Resources

SUSTAINIT provides a variety of resources for research and teaching, including the Oslo Medical Corpus, which is large database of health related texts and documents accompanied by an open access software interface and visualization tools to support conceptual analysis.


Seminar programmes

SUSTAINIT organizes numerous seminars for researchers and wider audiences, including its series of accessible online lectures, known as SHE talks.


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