Tapping Our Trans-Local Potential for Change

Archive for the ‘Improving Global Health’ Category

Improving Global Health: Tapping Our Trans-Local Potential for Change

Featured Speakers of the evening - Back row: Marj Ratel, Ashok Mathur, Dr. Shafique Pirani, Mohammad Zaman, Lyren Chiu, Derek Agyapong-Poku, Jerry Spiegel, Steven Pi. Front row: Shaheen Nanji, Ajay Puri, Dr. Kojo Assante, Joanna Ashworth

This post was written by Shaheen Nanji, Project Co-Director; Douglas Olthof, Project Researcher; and Chloë Straw, Project Research Assistant.

On March 16, 2011 the Engaging Diasporas in Development Project convened the second in its series of public dialogues. The dialogue was entitled Improving Global Health and covered three core themes: (1) the unique skills and experiences of diasporas influencing health; (2) how these experiences are transforming health practices and systems; and (3) tapping the current and potential impacts in Canada and beyond.

The first session opened with an overview of global health by Dr. Jerry Spiegel, an associate professor at the Liu Institute for Global Issues and UBC’s School of Population and Public Health. Dr. Spiegel explained that international health becomes global health when the causes and consequences of health issues circumvent, undermine or are oblivious to the boundaries of the state and thus beyond the capacity of any one nation to address. He also spoke of the huge disparities between the need and the capacity to deliver health services, speaking to the reality that the majority of health care providers (many of whom are from the Global South) are in North America and Europe while the burden of disease is overwhelmingly in Africa and Asia.

With these important points in mind, Ayumi Mathur brought participants into small groups, asking them to consider and discuss what health means to them as individuals. Further adding to this focus on health at the personal level, the group heard from a diverse group of storytellers.

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Eyes Healed by Ayuverdic Treatment

Ashok Puri poses with the head doctor at the Sreedhareeyam eye clinic in Kerela, India. Photo Courtesy of Ashok Puri.

This post was written by Ashok Puri, a member of the Indian diaspora in Vancouver.

Ayurvedic eye treatment helped heal my eyes, after Western doctors declared my condition ‘untreatable’.

Some years ago, I had a cataract operation. At the time, I was overly anxious and excited to have my vision improved. Cataract operations are so routine and quick that I couldn’t wait for the results. After the operation, I opened my right eye, expecting 20/20 vision.

Unfortunately, this was not the case. My sight went unchanged and remained at 20/60. I was diagnosed with idiopathic perifoveal telangiectasia shortly after. This is a rare, irreversible condition in which there is leakage of fluid from extra blood vessels around the fovea, a part of the eye that allows sharp vision for reading and watching television. The worst part was not just that this condition can lead to blindness, but that there is no known cure in the allopathic system of conventional medicine.

I was given one option, an expensive non FDA-approved injection called Avastin, which had no guaranteed results.

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Diasporas and Global Health

Professor James Busumtwi-Sam speaks at the Engaging Diasporas in Development dialogue "Poverty reduction and economic Growth" Photo: Greg Ehlers.

This post was written by James Busumtwi-Sam, Member of the Project Management Team and Project Advisory Committee as well as Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science at Simon Fraser University.

What is health? According to the 1946 WHO constitution it is “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Today this definition is widely accepted, as is the notion that, in addition to its biomedical and technical elements, we should be concerned with the broader social determinants of health as shaped by the distribution of money, power and resources at global, national and local levels. This broadened understanding of and approach to health reflects increased awareness that health issues are affected by factors traditionally considered outside the health sector. Globalization and the proliferation of non-governmental actors and institutions (public and private) strongly influence the ability of national and local authorities to protect and promote public health, but profound health disparities exist across the globe. Situating health within the context of broader social determinants provides a better understanding of the sources of health inequities.

The absence of equity in the provision of health services is considered to be one of the major impediments to achieving positive health outcomes. The WHO’s 1998 World Health Report Health for All in the 21st Century, linked good health to the advancement of human rights, greater equity, and gender equality among other things. Social determinant of health generate health inequalities. An emphasis on health equity implies that need — not income/wealth, power and privilege — should be the major determinant of health-care access and ultimately of health outcomes. This notion was embodied in the 1978 Alma Ata Declaration. However, the profound disparities in health opportunities and outcomes across the world today, indicate quite a divergence between recognizing a ‘right to health’ in principle and in practice.

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Climate refugees: Diaspora response to a human health crisis

Bangladeshi women try to adapt their livelihood strategies to a landscape changing rapidly due to climate change. The Ganges (locally called Padma), one of the three major rivers, is eating away valuable agricultural lands every year, making thousands homeless and landless destitute. Photo: Mohammad Zaman.

This post was written by Douglas Olthof, Project Researcher and MA in International Studies at Simon Fraser University.

Over the next 30 years, some 30-40 million Bangladeshis will take what they can from their homes and move to higher ground. They will pour into Dhaka and other Bangladeshi cities, overflowing the already expansive slums and bastees; they will cross international borders into India, Myanmar and other countries looking for livelihoods, homes and some semblance of security for their families. This mass of humanity, at least equal in size to the entire population of Canada, will not be pulled to the cities by the promise of a better future. Theirs will not be an economic migration associated with new opportunities, but instead a forced exodus driven by an unprecedented environmental calamity that they have played virtually no part in causing. They will make up the largest group of climate refugees this world has ever seen.

Bangladesh is the world’s most densely populated deltaic country. More than half of the country’s 160 million inhabitants make their homes on a massive delta formed by the confluence of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers. A one-meter rise in the sea level – as is predicted by some of the most conservative climate change models – would inundate roughly a third of Bangladesh’s land and trigger a forced migration unprecedented in its scale.

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Panos Network provides a new lens for international development

In 2007 the Panos Institute of Canada teamed up with public health specialist and photographer Pieter de Vos to produce AIDS in Two Cities: a photography project highlighting the common elements of HIV/AIDS issues in Port-au-Prince and Vancouver. Photos: Pieter de Vos - AIDS in Two Cities.

This post was written by James Busumtwi-Sam, Member of the Project Management Team and Project Advisory Committee as well as Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science at Simon Fraser University.

Faced with complexity, it is often prudent to simplify. To that end, we have invented concepts like “left” and “right” as tools to better understand politics, and use broad categories like “middle class” or “below the poverty line” to build manageable categories out of unwieldy continuums. In some instances, these simplifications help us to make sense of the context in which our busy lives unfold. In other cases, they obscure important dimensions of reality, generate unrealistic perceptions of the world and throw up barriers to achieving a more equitable, just and sustainable global society. The portrayal of the world in terms of a “global north” and a “global south” is a case in point.

According to Jon Tinker, founder of the Panos Network and Executive Director of the Panos Institute of Canada, the concept of a global “north” and “south” is a relic of a bygone era. In the wake of the Second Word War, as communism spread and the powers of Western Europe and North America moved to check its expansion, it became useful to think in terms of a world divided between the First World West, the Second World East and the Third World South. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Warsaw Pact, the Second World was dropped and a simplistic two-part vision of the world remained.

Jon Tinker thinks it’s high time this conceptual hand-me-down is tossed in the dustbin of history. He points out that the “North and South are no longer broadly distinct and homogeneous groups. Today, they are overlapping and heterogeneous categories, with at best only a historical validity” He argues that, while the “North/South lens” was sometimes useful to the social justice and development movements, ultimately “using [it] is not just lazy. It’s dangerous. It hinders us from seeing, let alone addressing, today’s unjust and socially unsustainable imbalances of power and wealth.”

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Vancouver doctor brings a cure for clubfoot to children in Uganda

A Ugandan baby born with the potentially crippling congenital disorder know as "clubfoot." Photo: USCCP

This post was written by Douglas Olthof, Project Researcher and MA in International Studies at Simon Fraser University.

In 1998 Dr. Shafique Pirani returned to Uganda to visit his birthplace and childhood school. A member of the Ismaili diaspora, Dr. Pirani had been among those expelled from Uganda by Idi Amin’s government in 1972. In making preparations to visit the country of his birth, he had not intended to tackle problems of Ugandan public health, but while on that visit he bore witness to a problem that he was uniquely qualified to diagnose and address.

Years before his fateful trip to Uganda, Dr. Pirani had taken a research interest in a congenital musculoskeletal disorder known commonly as clubfoot. This disorder occurs in roughly 1 in 1000 children and, if untreated, leads to deformation of the feet. This can leave the sufferer walking on the sensitive dorsum (top) of the foot, resulting in chronic pain, immobility, ulcerations, infection and, often, stigmatization. At the time of Dr. Pirani’s visit, the most commonly practiced treatment for clubfoot around the world was corrective surgery.

Surgical treatment for clubfoot in Uganda was not an option. In a country of 28 million with a birth rate of 3.5% annually, approximately 1500 Ugandan children are born with clubfoot every year. As late as 2008 the country had 20 practicing orthopedic surgeons, most of whom were concentrated in Kampala and focused on trauma. Dr. Pirani recognized a dire need for alternative treatments for clubfoot in Uganda that could be economically and socially feasible.

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Global health through the diaspora lens

Engaging Diasporas in Development Project Co-Directors Joanna Ashworth (left) and Shaheen Nanji. Photo: Greg Ehlers.

This post was written by Joanna Ashworth and Shaheen Nanji, Project Directors.

What does health mean to you? The question might sound simple, but only until you try to answer it. Is health simply a matter of a disease-free mind and body, or are there social, cultural, spiritual or environmental dimensions to be considered? How does our cultural, social and community background influence our understanding of ‘health’? These are just a few of the questions we will ponder when the “Engaging Diasporas in Development” project convenes its second public dialogue: Improving Global Health.

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