ECOSYSTEM RESEARCH

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CENPHER - From a Research Project to a Research Center

Urgent need for more research at universities in Vietnam

   Health risk due to exposure to polluted waste water Hoang Tay commune, Kim Bang dist., Hanam province

Vietnamese universities are generally perceived to be teaching oriented-institutions. Research is not always prioritized and is often given limited resources. This leads to modest visibility in the international sphere, especially in regards to international publications, funding, and social impact compared to the research of national research institutes worldwide. Research centers at universities have been to strengthen research at the university level. Many research centers are established to implement specific projects that are usually supported by international funding. As a result, the sustainability of these centers beyond the lifespan of the funded research projects is questionable as they cannot function without funding. Moreover, postdocs have the potential to start new research groups, often bringing new fields of study to their institutions and the research centers. The intermixing of disciplines is an essential ingredient for integrated research. However, the concept of a research group nuclei comprised of postdocs appears to be rather new to Asian academic institutions, which largely operate with limited resources.

From a research project to a research group

Understanding the local context and having opportunities to develop international research partnerships, a group of researchers at the Hanoi School of Public Health (HSPH) got together to develop a research center at HSPH that would a new model,it would be donor-funded. We began in 2009 with a postdoc project working on environmental sanitation and health issues of the Swiss National Centers of Competence in Research North-South (NCCR North-South) program at HSPH. This project allowed the creation of a research group of “water, sanitation and health” within the Department of Environmental Health. The research group gradually established other projects and activities that have been both internationally and nationally funded. This was the basis for the upgrade of the research group to a research center in 2012.

And to the emergence of a research center

To assist individuals and groups of researchers, research for development requires developing institutional research capacities to ensure the sustainability of these efforts.  Three years after forming a research group, HSPH founded the Centre for Public Health and Ecosystem Research (CENPHER) on June 1st, 2012, as a research Centre affiliated to HSPH. CENPHER’s objective was to conduct and strengthen interdisciplinary research capacity at HSPH. The support of HSPH’s leadership to embed CENPHER within the university shows their recognition of CENPHER’s work and its relevance to the local context, as well as their understanding of the importance to develop institutional research capacity. The establishment of CENPHER at HSPH has brought HSPH the benefit of improved visibility nationally and internationally.This has been a win-win situation for both institutions. CENPHER functions as a donor-funded unit, and has the responsibility to raise its own financing. The partnership with HSPH has also allowed CENPHER to be recognized as a legal entity within the university.

Up to the present, a handful of research, training, service, and knowledge translation activities have been carried out by CENPHER. The next few sections provide a glimpse of what has been done over the last five years.     


  The development of CENPHER from a research project to a research center. Adapted from Tanner (2012)    

CENPHER Strategic Plan (2012-2020)

Our mission:To study the impact of environmental, ecological, cultural, socio-economic and demographic factors on health and well-being, using the integrative approaches of Ecohealth and One Health in Southeast Asia and similarly in Africa.

Our Goals are to become:           

  • A well-established nationally and regionally recognized center on environmental health that works with the Ecohealth/One Health approach
  • A national reference center for health risk assessment
  • A resource center for integrative research and training in environmental health
  • A consultancy resource for policy makers and donors

Key activities:

CENPHER conducts research and training, and provides services.The expected time allocation of the research is 80% and 20% for training and service provision.

Research Main themes:

1) Integrative health research: Ecohealth and One Health (InRe)

2) Food Safety (FS) and risk analysis

3) Health Risk and Health Impact Assessment (HRIA)

Training: We supervise BSc, MSc and PhD students at HSPH and at other universities in and outside Vietnam. We teach regular courses at HSPH and other universities in the region. We offer short courses on Ecohealth, One Health, Risk Assessment, Integrative Training, and Environmental Sanitation and Health.

Services: Our consultancy consists of research, training, and evaluation work related to the core competencies of CENPHER research.