UBC is taking a more holistic approach to solving complex health and environmental issues with a first-of-its kind course in ecohealth.
The course examines the interconnected nature of ecosystems to better understand issues that affect the health of individuals and the sustainability of their environment. It is designed to foster collaborative learning about the reciprocal impact an ecosystem has on the health, sustainability and the environment of individuals and their communities.
Together professors, students, professionals, practitioners and researchers of various disciplines from seven provinces will explore ecosystem approaches to health in Vancouver through the lenses of food security, transportation and housing. This will include interactions with multiple community, academic, public and private sector stakeholders, as well as group presentations back to those involved.
The UBC farm will be used as a point of reference for learning throughout the course. “The farm is a microcosm at the rural and urban interface,” says Margot Parkes, a lead researcher for the pan-Canadian team based in the UBC Department of Family Practice and the College of Health Disciplines. “It is a great example of the interconnection between food, transportation and housing as important determinants of health in Vancouver.”
The course will also include a team project focused on the BC outbreak of cryptococcus gattii, “the killer fungus” as a learning scenario.
“A central theme for ecohealth is that health is determined at multiple levels with the whole being more than the sum of its parts,” says Parkes. “For any individual, health and well-being is embedded with the community, region, country and global ecosystems they live in however, we tend to examine these different components in isolation. Understanding the connections between these scales encourages integrated responses to health and sustainability issues.”
According to Parkes, the emphasis of an ecosystem approach is to design preventive solutions based on ecosystem management and other non-health sector interventions, rather than independent health sector responses. “An important feature of the work will be understanding and cultivating community strengths to promote health and sustainability rather than focusing only on problems,” says Parkes.
“The goal is healthy people in healthy communities in healthy ecosystems within a healthy planet,” says Parkes. “This is complex but is not necessarily complicated. It requires capacity to learn, research and work together to identify common ground and solutions that would not be achieved in isolation. Our course provides an opportunity for students -- and our own team -- to do exactly this.”
The inaugural Ecohealth course also marks the launch of the Canadian Community of Practice in Ecosystem Approaches to Health (www.copeh-canada.org). This pan-Canadian project has nodes at UBC, the University of Guelph and Université du Québec à Montréal, and has received initial support from Canada’s International Development Research Centre. Following the UBC-hosted course in 2008, the collaboratively designed course will be hosted by University of Guelph in 2009 and Université du Québec à Montréal in 2010.
Source: UBC Reports, August 7 2008
Text by Catherine Loiacono
Photo by Martin Dee