Karolinska Institutet’s vision is to advance knowledge about life and strive towards better health for all.
This small word “all” tells us that we as a medical university carries a huge responsibility. It communicates that our task is a truly global one – that we shall work and act across geographical boundaries. But the word “all” also reminds us that we should work across generational boundaries, for the improvement of health for generations still not born.
For continued life
Striving for a better health for today´s population is meaningless if our efforts and activities significantly detract from the quality of health of future generations. We must not only disentangle and improve the conditions for present life, but for continued life. To this end we must try to understand the trends and challenges that threaten health and that interfere with our current attempts to improve it.
These trends and challenges have multiplied over the past decades, adding new dimensions to the complexity of health. When we challenge or even transcend the planet’s boundaries and capacities, through carbon emissions, population growth, pollution and waste, we see how human activity adversely affects health. Health is becoming increasingly cross-sectoral and increasingly dependent on social, commercial and political determinants.
The complexity of health is exposed in full in UN´s Agenda 2030, with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Health is very much in evidence in at least 14 out of these 17 goals. In fact, the SDGs can be read as an agenda and recipe for the betterment of health, across sectors, disciplines and governance levels – and across generations.
We all share responsibility for the SDGs and for the planet’s future. How can we contribute at KI?
The current pandemic has given us an extra push in our work on sustainability. The ongoing project One KI for sustainable development aims to (re)organize this work and incorporate all our contributions to the topic – from research and education to the daily university operations. On Tuesday November 17, the project team will arrange the 1st KI conference on sustainable development: The health effects of climate change, and how to prevent them as a half-day online event. You will get the opportunity to reflect on how health is linked to climate change, get examples on how KI research relates to the SDGs and get inspired by a non-conventional mix of researchers and experts. One conference session will focus on how you can benchmark your research against the SDGs. With the conference comes a new funding initiative to encourage KI researchers to engage in SDG-related questions. Read more on this new call for KI grants for SDG-related research.
Realizing the ambitions of the SDGs depends on what we do as individuals. The global aspects are inextricably intertwined with the local ones. Hence the term “glocal” which says that local and global efforts for sustainability should mutually inform and inspire each other. A case in point is travelling by air which impacts climate and the environment, with a long-term negative effect on health. During the pandemic, we have had the opportunity to try out new ways to work and meet. To find out to what extent you have replaced physical meetings with digital alternatives and how these alternative solutions have served the purpose, a survey on travels and digital meetings during COVID-19 is currently open. Please give your answers by Monday November 16.
Health as a lens
The Sustainable Development Goals are many and complex. But they are by no means impenetrable or esoteric. Using health as a lens we easily see how the myriad of targets incorporated in the SDGs are interlinked and interdependent. This should inspire rather than dispirit.
Among European universities, Karolinska Institutet´s contribution to SDG3 “Good Health and Well-being” is second only to University College London. This is according to a recent bibliometric analysis carried out by Elsevier. Our vision – which specifically addresses the health also of future generations – may seem ambitious. But we have much to build on.