Effective pandemic planning must take social inequalities seriously

Portrait of Professor Svenn-Erik Mamelund.

PANSOC is one of five research groups that OsloMet awarded the status of Centre of Research Excellence.

At the heart of the centre's work is the idea that pandemics are and have always been more than just a medical problem. Socioeconomic status and ethnic background have a profound effect on who gets sick, who dies, and who survives.

A slow start

Svenn-Erik Mamelund, OsloMet professor and World Health Organisation (WHO) pandemic expert, started putting together this research group in 2016. The team received its first funding grant to study inequalities in the disease burden of historical influenza pandemics in 2019 from SAMRISK, a Research Council of Norway funding scheme.

Although the World Health Organization listed pandemics as one of the top ten threats to global health and the economy in 2018 and 2019, funding and support for this project proved difficult to find.

Covid exposes planning vulnerabilities

Mamelund hoped a pandemic wouldn't happen, but he describes COVID-19 as a lissepasning, a Norwegian football term that describes a perfect pass that sets up a goal.

He explains that "before the pandemic, it was hard to explain why socioeconomic inequalities are important, but now it is clear to everyone."

It is this focus on inequalities in health that makes PANSOC unique among pandemic research groups. Instead of only focusing on medical and health solutions, PANSOC is bringing together historians and other social scientists to address the societal impacts of pandemics.

Their goal is nothing short of a revolution in pandemic research and planning.

"I'm hoping to change the whole paradigm of research on this topic, the policy approach, the entire system. The thinking around how to take social justice into account," says Mamelund.

Making lasting changes

The biggest challenge facing PANSOC researchers is convincing Norwegian and international emergency planners to think of pandemics as more than just medical phenomena. "Social inequalities have always played a part in who gets sick and pandemic plans need to reflect that."

PANSOC is well positioned to achieve this goal. "You need to have the capacity to support researchers as they follow their hearts, follow their interests, and pursue the best results."

As a Centre of Research Excellence, they will have the freedom to conduct bottom-up research. Researchers will be able to not just work on solutions to today's challenges, but to spend time developing the plans and tools that will be important years from now.

A strategically important research centre

The status and visibility that comes with the Centre designation will help PANSOC researchers win additional grant funding, attract top students from within OsloMet, and form international collaborations.

It will also afford them the opportunity to spend time engaging with the public through media and newspapers and to work with policy makers. "We are going to situate ourselves in the centre of that discourse about the largest threats to our society."

The new centre will receive NOK 1 million each year through 2024, which will cover researchers, including a current Marie-Curie Postdoctoral Fellow, and support additional funding applications. Mamelund and his colleagues are working toward becoming a Norwegian Research Council Centre of Excellence in 2025.


Loading ...

Featured research

One doctor hands a syringe to another.
To end a pandemic, consider socioeconomics

Norway is starting its vaccination programme and people facing high medical risk are first in line. But medical conditions aren’t the only factors to consider when protecting people from a deadly virus.

En eldre mann sitter ved et spisebord og ser inn i en dataskjerm.
Why is it so challenging to distribute COVID-19 information to the elderly in Norway?

People consume information in different ways. Catering to the needs and habits of the majority when conveying information can amount to discrimination against other groups—including the elderly.

OsloMet researcher Svenn-Erik Mamelund.
Are measures designed to control the spread of Coronavirus working? And at what cost?

Svenn-Erik Mamelund is something of a rarity: a social scientist who specialises in pandemics. It is little wonder, then, that the OsloMet researcher is in high demand.

Statsrådene Kjell Ingolf Ropstad, Bent Høie, statsminister Erna Solberg og Guri Melby på pressekonferanse.
How to communicate effectively during a pandemic

There are some common mistakes the media and health authorities make when communicating a pandemic threat, according to Professor Harald Hornmoen.

Young woman sits typing at the computer having a small child in her lap
Norwegian study looks at how the Coronavirus pandemic is affecting people’s health and careers

The coronavirus pandemic is affecting the majority of employed adults in Norway, but in different ways.

Young woman standing in front of a street.
Young people may face particular challenges in the post-Corona labour market

The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in both a global health crisis and a financial crisis on a scale never before seen in modern times. The labour market that emerges in the wake of the crisis may impact younger workers harder than others.

A research article from:
Work Research Institute (AFI)
Published: 16/03/2021
Last updated: 26/03/2021
Text: Matthew Davidson
Photo: Sonja Balci / OsloMet