Working for good health and well-being: progress in the first actions of the IAU's SDG 3 cluster

  IAU SDG 3 cluster eHealth Center

The International Association of Universities (IAU) cluster for 2030 Agenda Sustainable Development Goal 3, Good Health and Well-being, recently held its first face-to-face meetings.

Juan F. Samaniego

After three years of remote working and videoconferencing imposed largely by the pandemic, the International Association of Universities (IAU) cluster for 2030 Agenda Sustainable Development Goal 3, Good Health and Well-being, recently held its first face-to-face meetings. Over three days coordinated by the eHealth Center of the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC), the cluster's members shared their progress, pooled their knowledge, and worked to continue building a collaborative space.

It was wonderful to meet face-to-face after three years of working online," said Liv Raphael, the director of the SDG 3 cluster and a member of the UOC's eHealth Center. "Meeting up showed once again how much institutions can learn from each other, and that collaboration is crucial for addressing systemic issues in global health. It was clear that despite our different contexts, the challenges are similar and the solutions that work in one institution and area can be adapted and replicated in others."

The SDG 3 cluster's strategy was created jointly by its members in 2019-2020 and is part of the IAU HESD Global Cluster, which aims to foster the sharing of knowledge, experiences, projects and recommendations on how higher education can help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. 

Key messages from the cluster's first face-to-face meetings

The SDG 3 cluster believes that higher education must foster a holistic approach to health that promotes equity and well-being all over the world. Accordingly, the cluster has five main pillars:

  1. Bridging the science, knowledge and policy gap.   
  2. A focus on equity and an integrated patient-oriented approach to health in programmes of study.  
  3. Promoting the consideration of local needs and voices.
  4. Fostering cross-sector collaboration and a systematic approach.
  5. Harnessing the power of online working and ehealth methodologies and tools.

After an intense period of remote working, the cluster's first face-to-face meetings concluded with the creation of an ambitious roadmap. Its key points are as follows:

  • All members of the university community have an important role to play in closing the inequality gap in the delivery of healthcare worldwide.   
  • It is time to redefine the concept of health, and to consider the main challenges to health and well-being with a salutogenic and planetary health approach.   
  • It is also time to build an integrated, interdisciplinary approach to health harnessing the power of technology, placing the individual at the centre of diagnosis and care, and offering an integrated response that is commensurate with the complexity of the problem.   
  • The role of communities, together with work by the community and for the community, must be enhanced in the search for solutions.     
  • Collaborative work is a basic means for progress, at both the interdisciplinary and inter-institutional levels.
  • Global universities with a glocal approach can play a key role in this effort, working towards solutions that are locally relevant while sharing knowledge globally.

The foundations of what health means are being redefined, and this is happening at a global level, in the same way as it did in the twentieth century," said Marta Aymerich, the Director of the eHealth Center at the UOC. "Today it is conceived in more salutogenic terms, or in other words, focusing on health rather than on illness, and involving each person rather than just health professionals. The contribution to this redefinition is also more open and global, and involves many more actors thanks to the power of networked communication. Projecting multiple solutions with diverse strategies undoubtedly brings us closer to overcoming the challenges facing global health."

The first actions by the institutions in the SDG 3 cluster

Within their areas of activity and influence, the institutions that are members of the IAU's SDG 3 cluster have undertaken interesting initiatives aimed at moving towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal 3. The cluster also shared these initiatives during the face-to-face meetings, in order to pool their knowledge and inspire each other.

Checking the temperature of sustainable development

Earlier this year, the IAU published an in-depth study of how universities around the world are integrating the Sustainable Development Goals into their institutions. The study, which contained information from more than 450 higher education institutions in 120 countries, concluded that working in silos and a lack of specific resources are two of the main challenges that universities face when integrating the SDGs into their institutions. The SDG 3 cluster also conducted a survey among its own members on this issue, and reached similar conclusions.

Master's Degree in Planetary Health

The UOC has launched a Joint University Master's Degree in Planetary Health with IS Global and Pompeu Fabra University. It aims to provide graduates with the competencies they need to promote health on a global scale while respecting the limits of the planet's natural systems, by analysing the challenges facing humanity that are linked to the global climate and environmental crisis, designing solutions and their implementation in our societies.

The Master's Degree in Planetary Health is an interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary education programme that seeks to reinforce some of the priorities of the SDG 3 cluster, including harnessing the power of online working and digital methodologies and tools, and fostering collaboration and a systems-based approach.

Living lab focused on ageing 

Parc Sanitari Pere Virgili Hospital, Vall d'Hebron Research Institute (VHIR), the Federation of Older Adults of Catalonia (FATEC), with the UOC's eHealth Center and other partners from social services, companies and public administrations have launched a living lab to support older adults. It has been christened the Barcelona Aging coLLaboratory (BALL), and seeks to become a multidisciplinary platform where different institutions can collaborate to develop innovative solutions aimed at active and healthy ageing.

Western Sydney University in Australia and other local partners have launched a programme to improve the prevention of diabetes using new technologies. The pilot project, which focuses on the health of Samoan communities, not only seeks to work on a coordinated basis with other academic and health institutions, but also aims to collaborate with local authorities and leaders to improve the population's commitment and adherence to practices for preventing diabetes.

Towards a healthier campus

Universitas Gadjah Mada in Indonesia has launched a programme aimed at creating a healthier environment and culture on its campus. Known as the Health Promoting University Programme, it is based around eight areas, including promoting physical exercise, zero tolerance of violence, and care for mental health. Among other actions, the programme has contributed to implementing routine health checks to detect non-communicable diseases, and to improving the campus sports infrastructure.

Telehealth to reach everyone

The University of Caldas in Colombia is undertaking two projects to install mobile booths and remote surgeries in rural areas in the department of Caldas, in order to be able to provide all members of the community with health services. The initiative is being carried out with the support of the Colombian Ministry of Science, IPS Universitaria and Telesalud Caldas.

Raising awareness about sustainable development

University College Dublin (UCD) in Ireland has launched SDG Action and Awareness Week with other universities and educational institutions, in order to increase awareness of the importance of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN's 2030 Agenda. Over a week, students and employees at UCD are receiving training and information from various members of the academic community about the SDGs, and about SDG 3 in particular.

Creating a new generation of leaders

Working with the community has been an important aspect of the work of the members of the SDG 3 cluster over the last few years, but at no other institution has it been as important as at Makerere University in Uganda. There, groups of students from different areas of health work within a community for several weeks to identify health challenges and develop and implement an intervention. The university also has research programmes, including the Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Health, developed with Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, which focuses on local needs in order to make SDG 3 one of the priorities of the next generation of community leaders.

During their get-together, members of the cluster also had the opportunity to visit Barcelona's Sant Pau Art Nouveau Site and to meet international organizations based in Barcelona that are also working on SDG 3.

In the coming months we will continue to share knowledge, learning and more in-depth case studies, both internally and externally in order to foster an interdisciplinary approach to health, to support health and wellness all over the world," concluded Liv Raphael.

We will move forward along the strategic lines that we established in the cluster and updated during these meetings, exchanging information and learning between institutions, working on promotion and communication together and carrying out intersectoral work," added Marta Aymerich. "This is all with a view to higher education advocating a holistic approach to health that promotes equity and well-being all over the world."


UOC experts

Photograph of Marta Aymerich

Marta Aymerich

Director of the UOC's eHealth Center

Expert in: Translating research findings into clinical and/or public health practice; evaluating research.

Knowledge area: Public health and research policy.

View file

Liv Raphael

Expert in: International alliances

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