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.