Challenges in Creating Planetary Health Student Organizations: A case study exploration of planetary health campus programs
Salia S. Sheriff, Joanna Wagner
Department of Chemistry and Environmental Science, College of Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change (COSTEC), University of Liberia. Email: email@example.com
Planetary Health endeavors to broaden humanity’s understanding of the link between human health and the planet’s natural systems. However, many people have yet to understand what Planetary Health is. In an effort to increase planetary health awareness among the next generation of global leaders, the Planetary Health Alliance (PHA) introduced the Planetary Health Campus Ambassador (PHCA) program in 2019, an annual global peer leadership program that prepares motivated students at higher education institutions to share planetary health awareness within their communities. In the past four years, the program has fostered more than 160 PHCAs from over 36 countries. The program’s reach has been growing, but at varying rates around the world in part due to a variety of challenges faced at the regional level. These include challenges of forming a campus or community based planetary health club due to institutions’ funding restrictions, lack of interest, and low awareness about planetary health. Of all surveyed ambassadors in this case study, 43% faced organizational obstacles when trying to create an on-campus student club, and 71% faced difficulties incorporating planetary health awareness into their local communities due to lack of understanding.90% of survey respondents agreed that the PHCA program is well-designed and improves their leadership skills, but many recommend the program be extended to two years, include more mentorship training and resource materials on planetary health, and incorporate more regional breakdowns to enhance coordination and outreach activities among PHCAs.
As our climate changes, human understanding of the planet evolves in search for sustainable solutions. From the Holocene to the Anthropocene, nature has continued to lose its balance, so as humanity strives to remain healthy, by focusing on Public health to Global Health, One Health and now Planetary Health. At each of these transitions, man has fallen short of finding an all-inclusive solution. As it is defined, Planetary Health is a multidisciplinary approach seeking long-term solutions to human induced environmental challenges that enhances sustainable development through human well-being and the planet’s natural systems (Myers, 2017).
As this great transition takes root in seeking solutions to anthropogenic environmental health issues, the PHCA program is a good step in the right direction under the cross-cutting principles for planetary health education. The program builds capacity of next generation leaders in leadership, communication skills, project management, international orientation and knowledge sharing on the global environment (Stone et al., 2018). From 2019 to present, the planetary health campus ambassadors program has reached every region of the world with more than 160 ambassadors, figure 1. The goal of this program is to grow the movement as well as increase planetary health awareness and education across different disciplines and sectors. This includes geographies that will serve as the backbone for diverse education approaches, particularly in higher education divisions well positioned to provide leadership and develop professionals (Guzmán et al., 2021).
Figure 1: Locations of Planetary Health Campus Ambassadors, 2022.
With 300 members and still counting, The Planetary Health Alliance is a solutions hub that comprises of government and nongovernment organizations, academic institutions, community based organizations and individuals from diverse backgrounds working for common solutions, provision of human health and the protection of the natural systems in a changing environment (Pongsiri et al., 2017).
Results and Discussions
A survey completed by 20% of the current PHCA cohort from different universities around the globe showed that many PHCAs (57.1%) heard about the PHCA program through their colleagues, with a few others learning about it via online postings, university lecturers, and their broader community. The program has spread globally since its inception in 2019, with the USA, Nigeria, Brazil providing the highest total numbers of ambassadors (Figure 2.)
Figure 2: Planetary Health Campus Ambassadors global representation, 2019–2022.
Many students applied to be a representative of the Planetary Health Alliance on their campuses in order to learn, teach, and introduce their peers and communities to planetary health initiatives. About 43% of PHCAs were only able to establish a PH club on campus after more than three months and 29% took less than a month to 2 months to form a PH club. The challenges of founding PH clubs ranged from partiality, low awareness, and unfamiliarity to Planetary Health constituting to 14%, 42%, and 42% respectively.
Many PHCAs, about 86%, experienced obstacles at their universities which slowed down their progress. 71% of PHCAs were unable to institutionalize Planetary Health activities into their universities and communities. For those who have been able to institutionalize Planetary Health into their universities, 67% found it difficult to do so due to lack of administrative interest in the Planetary Health activities. Presently 43% and 27% of PHCAs have conducted educational seminars and campus workshops on planetary health awareness, respectively. No PHCAs has been able to introduce a course of Planetary Health in their department or university despite many having the desire to do.
The PHCA program as designed by the Planetary Health Alliance (PHA) has improved the leadership skills of PHCAs through planning, conducting, and implementing projects. In the process, many PHCA have acquired knowledge in planetary health education, communication skills, digital learning platforms (webinars, zooms, and google), project management, and program/event planning. Despite these achievements, many PHCAs, about 85%, are yet to conduct in-person meetings mostly due to Covid-19 and intermittent closure of universities. PHCAs believe in person meetings are a more definite way of communicating to their peers on campus.
Even though many agreed that the PHCA program is well designed, majority recommend the installment of regional hubs and leadership where members can meet and discuss common issues; extend ambassadors’ tenure to 2 academic years, provide more PH resources (textbooks/elibrary), videos, audios, online platforms, and conduct more mentorship training for PHCAs, outreach, collaborations, and exchange programs. The program has increasingly benefited more people but in an uneven curve of numbers of ambassadors, figure 3.
Figure 3:lanetary Health Campus Ambassadors’ selection curve per regions, 2019–2022.
The Planetary Health Campus Ambassador (PHCAs) program is an enriching program full of leadership opportunities, training, and educational offerings designed to help students understand multidisciplinary approaches that address the intersections between human well-being and the natural systems. It prepares next generation leaders to engage parties from different stakeholders to interchange unified efforts in tackling planetary health related issues. However, instituting Planetary Health Clubs and activities in already established higher education institutions is a remarkably slow task due to challenges of conflict of interest, novelty of the program to many academics, and bureaucracy. Therefore, founding PH regional incubation, resource centers, and swift focus with minimal support to include community-based planetary health ambassadors (COPHA) will increase PH awareness, education, and actions particularly in developing countries.
Guzmán, C. A. F., Aguirre, A. A., Astle, B., Barros, E., Bayles, B., Chimbari, M., Howard, C. (2021). A framework to guide planetary health education. The Lancet Planetary Health, 5(5), e253-e255.
Myers, S. S. (2017). Planetary health: protecting human health on a rapidly changing planet. The Lancet, 390(10114), 2860–2868.
Pongsiri, M. J., Gatzweiler, F. W., Bassi, A. M., Haines, A., & Demassieux, F. (2017). The need for a systems approach to planetary health. The Lancet Planetary Health, 1(7), e257-e259.
Stone, S. B., Myers, S. S., & Golden, C. D. (2018). Cross-cutting principles for planetary health education. The Lancet Planetary Health, 2(5), e192-e193.