Melvine Anyango Otieno, 2019 Planetary Health Campus Ambassador
By Melvine Anyango Otieno, 2019 Planetary Health Campus Ambassador
My appointment as one of the international 2019 Planetary Health Campus Ambassador resulted in many accomplishments. At my university in Kenya, the University of Eldoret, we formed a Planetary Health Society and registered the University of Eldoret as an active member of the Planetary Health Alliance. For the first time, students engaged the local community in planetary health education efforts — we debated and discussed; played sports for health and connection to the outdoors; and educated children and the elderly about urban environmental stresses, among others. We also led planetary health intervention measures — such as a solid waste management workshop and a conservation project of local wetlands — in which students, landlords, stakeholders, policymakers and the local community participated in and showed a true desire and resolve for planetary health.
Once we started gaining momentum, we seized opportunities to promote planetary health in other universities in Kenya including; Moi University, Egerton University and University of Nairobi. Additionally, we created an abundance of social media platforms, which have immensely supported our planetary health activities and provided means to communicate our events, plans and outcomes on a daily basis: Find us on Facebook ; Twitter @uoeldplanetary; Instagram @uoeplanetaryhealth; and our website www.uoeplanetaryhealth.com!
Although I wasn’t able to make it in-person to the 2019 Planetary Health Annual Meeting, I used the opportunity to host a virtual Watch Party at the University of Eldoret which allowed many students at my university to participate. I was also privileged to be a virtual speaker at one of the breakout sessions on engaging the world youth, as well as displayed my poster on “Engaging post-secondary student communities in Planetary Health Education: Case Study Western Kenya.”
Next, in October 2019, I was offered the opportunity to introduce planetary health to a continent-wide network of academics at the 9th African Network for Internalization of Higher Education (ANIE) annual conference in Kenya, themed ‘Africa Internationalization and the Global Context: Making it work.’
On the basis of my appointment as a global Planetary Health Campus Ambassador, I was invited as a speaker and a panelist by the German Federal Foreign Office Berlin in partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) to participate in One Planet, One Health, One Future event on the 25th October, 2019. I presented on “Unexploited opportunities in engaging the youth in promotion of Planetary Health and One Health” and also supported the development of the 2019 Berlin Principles on One Health.
I also participated in the World Health Summit on 27th to 29th October, 2019 held at Kosmos, Berlin. It gave me an opportunity to network with other world scientist and to foster new collaborations. I have been engaged as part of the organization of the World Health Summit regional meeting to be held in Kampala, Uganda in April 2020.
While in Berlin, I also attended a lecture at Charite Campus in Mitte, Berlin on “Advancing human health in the era of climate change and planetary health” that was presented by Dr Renzo Guinto, Doctor of Public Health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and learnt from his shared lessons and experiences from the Philippines. I also got to engage with the Students for Planetary Health Berlin, as founded by my fellow 2019 Campus Ambassador, Oskar Masztalerz.
Other activities that my planetary health student club engaged in were: tree planting events, aquaculture in Lake Victoria Workshop, World Wetland Day, World Population Day, Chebara dam event and a lecture on the homeopathic treatment of emotional illness and mental hygiene presented by Dr Monica Watts Franciosa from the USA. Also, we are currently building the Planetary Health Eastern Africa Hub, which is being greatly supported and amplified by the network I made while traveling in Europe.
Some of the biggest challenges we encountered included explaining to students the benefits of planetary health, yet the lack of resources and funds to support our activities. There were also challenges in breaking the rigid traditions of policymakers in order to facilitate productive interactions and to fill in the policy gaps to help tackle planetary health issues. Lastly, my travel outside the country (specifically to the 2019 Planetary Health Annual Meeting) was hampered by difficulties in obtaining a travel visa, but nevertheless I got the privilege of participating at the planetary health conference virtually.
My theory of change and personal path in planetary health has evolved greatly through activities including; club formation, field work/community interactions, networks, workshop and conferences. While many of our assumptions were correct, we lacked enough resources to implement our planned activities fully. For the future, our ultimate goal is to build up a functional Planetary Health Eastern Africa Hub that will encourage other institution in Eastern Africa to form more planetary health clubs and engage scientists, policy makers and community members in promoting planetary health. We hope to collaborate with other planetary health clubs and hubs in order to do activities and projects jointly and share our experiences with the global community.
My advice for other ambassadors hoping to further planetary health in their own community is to start with collectivizing people’s passions and regularly hosting virtual or physical meetings to sustain interest. Continuous learning through reading and documentaries are also key. Next, it is important to collaborate with communities from other parts of the world in order to be global in perspective and have more impact. Further, having an effective mentor who has better understanding in some areas and is also willing to learn is important. Lastly, I suggest involving and engaging the youth, policymakers, and community workers in planetary health activities.