At the end of a semester learning about Systems Thinking in One Health, the graduate students of the One Health Center applied their newly learned skills to analyze and suggest solutions to some of the “wicked problems” faced by humanity.
The students chose one general topic such as vaccines and the future, anti-microbial resistance, Big Data and Artificial Intelligence, interdisciplinarity research, climate change, and the future of food production. They then zoomed in on specific issues to understand their origin and causes and to propose original interdisciplinary solutions-based, also, on their personal experiences and personal backgrounds.
Vaccine access was the most studied question. Students discussed the necessity to develop thermostable vaccines to increase access in developing countries; how to balance the need between protecting intellectual property and fostering innovation with reducing power imbalances between countries where vaccines are produced and countries where vaccines are not produced; and how to increase livestock vaccination in developing countries to protect the livelihoods of local pastoralists and reduce the risk of spillover events.
AMR & Climate Change
Anti-microbial resistance and climate change were close seconds. Anti-microbial resistance, covered in a few blogs this fall, covered cultural and behavioral drivers, the key role of hospitals, and the thorny issue of the use of antibiotics in livestock production. The students that addressed the issue of climate change instead discussed different perspectives and possible solutions. From the classics, reducing emissions of greenhouse gases and shifting energy production towards green alternatives, to ideas to sequester CO2 in seaweed to simultaneously improve the health of oceans.
Future of Food
The future of food production is another important topic: the threats faced by food producers due to climate change, population increases, desertification, and soil depletion; the trade-offs and tensions with other problems such as preserving biodiversity and natural environment while expanding agricultural land, or reducing the consumption of chemicals to protect water sources while increasing production. Students also considered problems closer to our daily lives such as food deserts and the difficulty of accessing the foods necessary for a diet that includes the right quantity and quality of macro and micronutrients.
Big Data & AI
Last but not least, very interesting reflections were generated by analyzing the use of Big Data and Artificial Intelligence for health and the importance of interdisciplinarity to tackle public health issues. In particular, students analyzed how Artificial Intelligence could be unhelpful or even dangerous when it is trained on bias data that do not properly represent different genders, races, and ethnicities. To tackle this issue students proposed different solutions and also echoed the suggestions of international organizations and NGOs calling for Sex-and-Gender data by default. As far as interdisciplinarity is concerned, the students learned from the current pandemic and identified the importance of including experts in humanities in national pandemic response teams. Their knowledge of culture and societies can greatly improve communications efforts, especially when potentially controversial topics (i.e. vaccinations, fertilizer controls) are involved. This knowledge could help generate not only trust but engagement as well among citizens: engagement that is fundamental to address all the “wicked problems” faced by humankind. Since these problems affect all of us, all of us should and, more importantly, can do something to address them.
By Dr. Luca Mantegazza, Research Program Coordinator