Dozens of Western faculty and students across all disciplines are tying together threads that link global health with ethics, education, equity, ecology and economics.
Through the new Global Health Equity Hub, researchers are sharing more holistic insights into the multiple causes of good or ill health in individuals, across regions and among countries.
The hub was founded by medical anthropology professor Elysée Nouvet on behalf of a collective including global health equity engaged Western faculty members and students from across the university.
“We cannot only pay attention to biomedical causes of disease or illness. We have to be paying attention to what’s going on upstream, and which risk factors are higher for certain populations,” Nouvet said.
“This is an incredible opportunity across the world and at Western to multiply our impact as we work together.”
The hub represents a vision of a world where there are more equitable opportunities for well-being and less inequity in factors that cause ill health and suffering, said Nouvet, a professor at the School of Health Studies at Western.
Nouvet’s early research interest stems from trying to understand how humans respond to suffering and extreme violence. She has conducted research on moral experiences of clinical trials during the Ebola crisis in West Africa (an epidemic that spanned 2014 to 2016) and she is a member of the World Health Organization COVID-19 Research Roadmap Social Sciences working group.
The Ebola pandemic forced a turning point in global health equity conversations, she said. “It multiplied discussions about our responsibilities to respond, not only for our own security, but also out of a sense of common humanity and solidarity.”
These conversations are playing out again with the COVID-19 pandemic, as economic and health gaps between rich and poor, and between ‘have’ and ‘have-not’ neighbourhoods and nations have widened.
Some places such as the Central African Republic, have no intensive care units or ventilators; while many more countries lack transportation to health care, or access to clean water or personal protective equipment.
Nouvet is Western’s representative on the Canadian Association for Global Health. One of its tenets is that every human has a right to be protected and that access to vaccines is about equity and solidarity.
The new Global Health Equity Hub draws upon Western’s research expertise in moulding a more equitable distribution of opportunities for wellbeing and addressing inequity in factors that cause ill health and suffering.
These factors go beyond local circumstances and stretch as broadly as the evolution and legacy of global colonialism; a history of exploiting natural resources; the imbalances in less-tangible resources such as education, social status and social capital.
Study areas include power, ethics, the impact of suffering, humanitarianism and technology.
“We’re talking about an existential crisis at a level we’ve never seen before. It’s about the everyday emotional, political and social engagement of citizens around the world, and it’s connected to the health and well-being within countries and across populations, and with social determinants of health, poverty, infectious diseases, the environmental crisis. There are all these levels at which this is a state of emergency,” she said.
Nouvet said Western has a great opportunity to step into gaps in how global health is practised, through its faculty members’ commitment to local and international collaborations.
“Every faculty member whose name is on that hub practises in a way that is trying to disrupt historical colonial ways of partnering in global health,” she said.
During the annual Power and Global Health Day in November, the hub focused on the disproportional impact of climate change on disadvantaged populations.
This program stemmed from an interdisciplinary development initiative and has received additional internal funding through a collaboration with Western International and the Centre for Research on Health Equity and Social Inclusion.
Plans are in the works to build new health equity programs, or thread new themes through existing interdisciplinary programs; and more opportunities for students and faculty members to interact with, learn from and teach each other.
“It’s a really large group of us working to increase the visibility and opportunities for collaboration in global health equity.”
Those involved with Western as faculty, students, or community partners with research, teaching, or community-engaged work targeting global health inequities are invited to submit a profile that will be findable to others visiting the website and to submit inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org. There is also a blog open for undergraduate, graduate, faculty, staff and partner submissions.