First Planetary Health Report Card for UCT's Faculty of Health Sciences

31 May 2023 | Céline Gravenor (MBChB), Aya Yokwe (MBChB), Imraan Moosa (MBChB), Sayuran Pillay (MBChB), James Irlam (Senior Lecturer, Epidemiology & Environmental Health). Read time 4 min.
Members of the Faculty of Heath Sciences’ Planetary Health Report Card (PHRC) Team, Sayuran Pillay, Imraan Moosa, James Irlam (Senior Lecturer), Aya Yokwe and Céline Gravenor (insert).
Members of the Faculty of Heath Sciences’ Planetary Health Report Card (PHRC) Team, Sayuran Pillay, Imraan Moosa, James Irlam (Senior Lecturer), Aya Yokwe and Céline Gravenor (insert).

The University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) took part in their first scorecard for the Planetary Health Report Card (PHRC), a global student-led initiative to promote education about planetary health and environmentally sustainable healthcare in health science campuses. Planetary Health has been defined as a transdisciplinary field and social movement for analysing and addressing the health impacts of human disruptions to Earth’s natural systems. This initiative is prompting great change in universities around the world, including Oxford University Medical School, University of Cambridge, University of Washington School of Medicine, University of Crete, Newcastle University Medicine Malaysia, Nagasaki University, Utkal University, University of Zurich, among many others.

Over the course of semester 2 in 2022, a team consisting of one researcher from the Department of Family, Community and Emergency Care, James Irlam, and five FHS medical students interviewed 43 members of faculty, staff, student leaders, and campus leadership. The students involved were Aya Yokwe, Imraan Moosa, Sayuran Pillay, Zaahidah Razzak and Céline Gravenor. 

Planetary Health Report Card 

The scorecard has specific criteria for measuring 5 aspects of sustainability:

  1. the integration of relevant planetary health topics into curricula, 
  2. the quality and quantity of interdisciplinary planetary health research, 
  3. extent of faculty engagement in community outreach and advocacy efforts associated with planetary health,  
  4. institutional support for student-led planetary health initiatives, and 
  5. institutional support and engagement in campus sustainability initiatives. 

The Faculty of Health Sciences’ score for 2022-2023 is an overall grade of C (43.25%), with higher scores in Planetary Health Curriculum (54.17%) and Interdisciplinary Research (52.94%) sections. However, Community Engagement (35.71%), Support for Student-Led Initiatives (20%) and Campus Sustainability (40.63%) have large areas for improvement. Having completed the scorecard for the first time, the Faculty has made a huge step in looking toward and, importantly, preparing for the future. Many other universities noted that PHRC sparked change in the various parts of the institution, and having measurable criteria to work towards stimulated the process of considering planetary health in the faculty. In subsequent years, most universities improve their scores.  

‘Secure the Future’ 

The intention is for FHS to incorporate planetary health in curriculum change, research, campus sustainability, community engagement and support for student initiatives. The Khusela Ikhamva/ ‘Secure the Future’ Sustainable Campus Initiative is an example of the change already begun on campus – with the goal of net-zero carbon, water and waste-to-landfill campus by 2050 or sooner. The curriculum reform in the FHS is also a crucial opportunity for integrating human and planetary health themes and topics. 


Student poster presentation 

The student PHRC team also produced a poster for presentation at the SHARE (Sustainable Healthcare Academic Research and Enterprise) virtual conference on 12 May. The poster covered a reflection on student-staff collaboration towards a sustainable campus, and was presented amongst posters from multiple universities who completed PHRC scorecards. 

Student poster presentation for the SHARE (Sustainable Healthcare Academic Research and Enterprise) virtual conference.

In future years, the team hopes to witness increasing change sparked by PHRC, as well as greater student interest and initiative in planetary health and sustainable healthcare. More students will be needed to carry the baton of PHRC within the Faculty, when the next scorecard will need to be completed in 2024. 

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Committed to Environmental Sustainability

Committed to Environmental Sustainability

The University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Vision 2030 strategy’s goal is to unleash human potential in pursuing a just and equitable society. This vision rests on three fundamental pillars: sustainability, excellence, and transformation. In line with this strategy, the university has developed different initiatives, including a sustainability strategy, to provide direction for UCT’s environmental sustainability. This strengthens the university’s ambitions of being a net-zero carbon/energy, water, and waste-to-landfill campus by or before 2050.

UCT Sustainability and the SDGs 2022

UCT is committed to addressing the most critical problems facing the continent and the rest of the world. This report tracks the progress UCT is making towards the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals and the African Union Agenda 2063.
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