By Corrine Nief and Natsuki Shimegi

No matter what discipline or background someone comes from, planetary health should concern them. The Lancet published a commission on Planetary Health in 2015 outlining what “planetary health” is and why we should be thinking about it. Their publication reviews systematic gaps between human health, environmental health, policy, and society. There have been several major to bring planetary health to our attention, including the formation of a planetary health alliance. The field of planetary health has been called “Global Health 2.0” because it encompasses the large scale problems that are addressed in global health research, but it extends beyond that to include the health of our environment and societies.

After reading the Lancet’s Commission on Planetary Health and listening to a lecture from Dr. Pattanayak, one of the commission’s writers, I became aware of many of the challenges associated with this research. Learning about the intricate and large scale problems might be overwhelming, but I think the report highlights opportunities for future researchers and policy makers. Some of the key points that I would like to pose as developing opportunities are the focus on interdisciplinary work, the need for new metrics, and the forgotten art of implementation.

Crossing Interdisciplinary Lines

The 2015 Lancet report states that interdisciplinary research will be needed to bridge knowledge gaps to improve planetary health. While many of our careers rely on specialization, there is an apparent need to connect experts in all fields. Recently many programs have made begun facilitating interdisciplinary programs. Duke, for example, set forth an initiative to enable interdisciplinary studies in 2006 and has been making changes to encourage interdisciplinary learning. Some of the ways that they propose increasing interdisciplinary learning for undergraduates are connecting class projects to current events, having courses taught by multiple professors from multiple backgrounds, and requiring more group projects. Among the initiatives for graduates students are allowing students to take courses in any school, providing certificate programs in fields that are not the student’s primary field, and offering masters programs that encompass several field of study (such as the Masters of Global Health).

Research in no-man’s land

I would like to ask what others think could further improve interdisciplinary research? There are obviously still challenges to cross-disciplinary research, so how do we overcome these? How do we increase communication between specialist indifferent fields? A problem that I have witnessed with research that incorporates several fields, is finding funding for research that is not entirely in field and finding journals that will publish interdisciplinary work. For example an article that incorporates two or three distinctly different fields, might have difficulty publishing their results because most academic journals tend to only publish articles that are within their field’s scope.

Developing Indicators and Metrics

As was mentioned before, this idea of Global Health 2.0 is taking an even broader look at the way we think about medicine, the environment, policy, economics, and society. Let’s say we want to measure the effect of a government subsidy on solar panels on cardiovascular disease. In order to do this we must take into consideration many different complex parameters. Ultimately we would want some metric that can connect these large ideas into quantifiable results that could be published and used to influence future decision making. Because these ideas are so large, connecting them with meaningful metrics has proved to be difficult.

There is a need for future researchers to develop means for measuring large scale effects to continue planetary health research. As many research projects are launched by graduate students and professionals around the world, we must keep in mind that research is meaningless unless it is shared and implemented correctly. For example, if someone develops a new way to detect malaria that is cheaper and more sensitive than previous methods, there must be an implementation plan to produce and distribute this technology. As said in class, implementation receives a very small portion of funding in research projects, but it may be the most important park. Dr. Pattanayak stressed the importance of working on projects that are effective and relevant.