Summer Students

To facilitate the learning objectives of the summer student program at Grand Challenges Canada and the Sandra Rotman Centre, the lovely and talented Lauren Leahy has arranged a variety of speaker sessions for the student staff with esteemed researchers and practitioners in the field of global health.

On Tuesday, May 22, the students heard from Dr. Donald Cole, of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at University of Toronto.

Dr. Cole emphasized that ‘global health’ is not exclusively something that occurs outside our state borders, but rather means equitable health for everyone, everywhere. It is therefore important to consider what advantages or barriers exist that perpetuate disparities in actual health status among different groups of people, both within and across populations. In Canada, this often means addressing the unique needs of First Nation, Inuit, or Métis populations, as well as immigrant populations, the elderly, the poor, and people living in rural or remote communities. For example, Canadian immigrant populations can have higher exposure to environmental contaminants due to housing, diet, and workplace exposure; a disproportionate number of new immigrants work in physically demanding, dirty and potentially dangerous jobs as compared to other Canadians. He encouraged us to think about the social, cultural, economic, and political factors that contribute to this differential risk profile.

Dr. Cole also spoke about the complexities involved in global health issues and the need to consider the full range of health impacts, environmental impacts, social and community impacts, and impacts on economic productivity and capabilities. He advised that the impacts across these different dimensions are not necessarily aligned, but that before deciding to pursue or not pursue a project, it is import to be informed of the costs and benefits in each aspect and to thus make an informed decision about whether the trade-offs involved are acceptable and worthwhile and to whom.

As an illustrative example, Dr. Cole discussed some of the intricacies of agriculture. He remarked that large-scale agriculture doesn’t necessarily improve outcomes for all portions of the populations, and that if we consider outcomes such as food security, access to nutritious food, purchasing power, social organization, community cohesion, etc., there are many reasons to promote a mixture of farm sizes and technologies. In particular, he referenced the mental health benefits of being involved in a community gardening or farming project, even here in downtown Toronto; while such a project cannot compete with large commercial farms for efficiency in producing food products, there are other non-market benefits that contribute significantly to individuals’ and communities’ well-being.

Thanks to Dr. Cole for an interesting and inspiring conversation! The content was fascinating and the career commentary and advice will be helpful as we students contemplate our next steps and the potential paths ahead of us.

− Caitlyn MacMaster