uOttawa Faculty of Medicine inspires counterparts to follow its leadership path in Planetary Health

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By David McFadden

Research Writer, University of Ottawa

Planetary Health
The Faculty has been a leader in prioritizing the health of the planet and working toward a sustainable future.

Climate change is the biggest health threat facing the globe. Period.

Think about it: Infectious disease patterns expanding their range, biodiversity loss leading to a cascade of ecological decline, and upended weather systems imperiling our food supply chain and other fundamentals that sustain our lives.

The escalating urgency of the climate crisis and its repercussions for global health led the uOttawa Faculty of Medicine to take a leadership position in finding and implementing solutions. To help create a sustainable, ecologically friendly future, the Faculty embraced planetary health as part of its 2020-2025 strategic plan. And in 2021, Dr. Husein Moloo was appointed as the Faculty’s inaugural Director of Planetary Health – the first position of its kind in a North American medical school.

Since this groundbreaking appointment, Dr. Moloo has been taking a strategic, broader lens look at identifying solutions in decreasing the carbon footprint of the medical field. He’s also been helping to drive sustainable practices.

Now, the uOttawa Faculty of Medicine is urgently encouraging its counterparts to make the same commitment.

In a newly published commentary in Lancet Planetary Health, Dr. Moloo and colleagues from the uOttawa Faculty of Medicine say every medical faculty across the globe should create a planetary health director of their own. Why? At uOttawa, the creation of this role has sent a clear signal that the Faculty of Medicine is committed to prioritizing the health of the planet. It’s a core part of its guiding vision: “Leading Innovation for a Healthier World.” 

Dr. Husein Moloo (image courtesy of The Ottawa Hospital)

Dr. Mark Walker, Vice-Dean of Internationalization and Global Health at the Faculty of Medicine, says the pioneering position needs to be replicated at other faculties of medicine and institutions of higher learning because it’s so clearly making demonstrable progress on multiple fronts while serving as a major engagement tool for our community.

“The position is treasured by internal stakeholders – and admired by external ones,” adds Dr. Walker, who was instrumental in establishing the Planetary Health Director vision.

Dr. Bernard Jasmin, dean of the uOttawa Faculty of Medicine, says he’s been thrilled to see the progress made in recent years by embracing a leadership role in this all-important area.

“Our Faculty is committed to addressing the existential challenges of climate change with concrete actions. We are deeply concerned by the impact of climate change on human health and by the impact of healthcare on the environment. We’re truly leading by example as we strive for a healthier world,” he says.

Dr. Bernard Jasmin, Dean of the uOttawa Faculty of Medicine

From Dr. Moloo’s perspective, embracing change to avoid the worst scenarios of the climate crisis is becoming increasingly urgent. The sheer scale of the threat for human health is something the Faculty’s trainees see clearly as they emerge as tomorrow’s leaders in biomedical research, medical education and clinical care.

“I think our medical and graduate students, as well as all other trainees in the faculty, understood before we did how vitally important planetary health is. It has been their leadership and advocacy in this area, in partnership with the dean and vice dean, that has led to our Faculty of Medicine becoming a true leader in planetary health,” says Dr. Moloo, a full professor of surgery at the Faculty of Medicine and a clinical investigator in epidemiology at The Ottawa Hospital.

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