sherilee harper

EcoHealth Research with Indigenous Communities


When in Rome, learn about epi!

Written by Julia Bryson

At the tail end of the summer I had the exciting opportunity to attend the annual congress of the International Society on Environmental Epidemiology (ISEE) in Rome, Italy. The title of the conference, “Old and new risks: challenges for environmental epidemiology,” set the tone for what was to be a productive meeting of researchers, experts, policy-makers, public health professionals, and students coming together to discuss the identification and mitigation of environmental hazards to health, from past to future.

Upon arriving, I was quick to notice that the proportion of students amongst the attendees was quite low. Needless to say, as an undergraduate student in a crowd of seasoned experts and renowned researchers, I felt decidedly ‘out of my league’. However, I came to realize that everyone was there to learn, and while I had more of that to do than others, my participation and abilities were not to be discounted by my relative lack of experience. With this in mind, I tackled the three packed days ahead.

Over the weekend, I was happy to discover that the conference featured several parallel sessions and posters on the impacts of climate change on human health; these provided me with valuable information and perspective as I pursue my systematic review investigating the influences of climate change on the neglected tropical diseases in East Africa. Many of these researchers have faced the same barriers that I am dealing with, including the dearth of research in populations of low socioeconomic status and the sometimes lacking quality of data collected in unstable, resource-poor populations where conditions are hard to control. It was encouraging to see others working through these obstacles and forming important conclusions that may help to shape policy for future.

It came as a surprise to me, but the discussions around policy and ethics in environmental epidemiology were perhaps most engaging and valuable to me as a new student in the field. These talks ranged in topic from the role of the epidemiologist in the justice system, to the ethics of data sharing and communication with the public. Provocative questions were posed that I had never considered, such as ‘How do we reconcile the definition of “significant” in the field of research (often set at a level of 5% or 1% probability that results are due to chance), with that of the legal system, where a 51%-49% split or ‘more probable than not’ is the accepted standard?’ and, ‘How do we balance the demands of policy-makers and the public for results now with the reality that epidemiological studies often take years to complete?’ These questions forced me to think critically about the issues at hand and they exposed me to new philosophies and challenges within epidemiology. It was also reassuring that for these questions everyone in the room was having trouble coming to a solution! Some fascinating debates resulted.

Without doubt, I came away from ISEE will many ‘big ideas’ about this field of research. I learned that in epidemiology, there is always the need for more research as populations and exposures change. I learned the importance of understanding how to convey risks transparently and with context when your ultimate audience is the public. I learned how significant community health policy partnerships are to ensuring that research is able to facilitate positive change, which often happens outside of the lab through the courts or government. My attendance also helped to highlight areas for growth, particularly my understanding of different epidemiological methodologies and analytical models. A stronger foundation in these areas will help me to improve my comprehension and appreciation of others’ work, and better understand how I can strengthen my own research.

In the end, it sometimes seems like I left this conference with more questions than I arrived with. But in many ways, that was one of my aspirations! I attended ISEE 2016 to expose myself to different areas in epidemiology, to challenge myself with new concepts, and to be inspired as I move forward with my research. I am happy to say that my attendance accomplished these goals and more. I have no doubt that what I have learned as a result of this experience, and what it has encouraged me to learn about in the future, will be of great value. And with that – Ciao, Roma, e grazie mille per tutti!

Photos by Moreno Maggi ( and Julia Bryson.


People, Animals, Water, and Sustenance (PAWS) project: Update from Iqaluit

Written by Anna Manore, MSc Candidate

It’s a beautiful, sunny, summer day in Iqaluit, Nunavut, and a dozen rambunctious sled dogs are happily barking and jumping around. Three researchers from the University of Guelph are moving among the dogs, stooping and scooping to collect the stool of these rambunctious animals.

This isn’t just a community service – the three researchers are collecting dog stool in order to detect infectious diseases that could pose a danger to humans. Danielle Julien, Stephanie Masina, and Anna Manore are three graduate students whose work on the PAWS (People, Animals, Water, and Sustenance) project aims to shed some light on potential sources of enteric illness in Iqaluit. Cryptosporidium and Giardia are the two pathogens of interest, and the PAWS project is investigating dogs, surface water, and clams as potential sources for these two potentially harmful protozoans.

“PAWS is a great example of taking a systems approach to health and social issues,” says project manager Anna Bunce, from McGill University. “This is important because it gives us an holistic understanding of a number of issues and how they fit together to create the contemporary context of Iqaluit.”

EcoHealth and OneHealth approaches are being used to guide this project forward, which, in the words of Danielle Julien, offers “an incredible opportunity to work together with fellow researchers from various disciplines within our department [Department of Population Medicine] to accomplish an understanding of health in the North”

“This project couldn’t be done without our wonderful collaborators from the Nunavut Research Institute, Jamal Shirley and Jean Allen,” says Stephanie Masina. Jamal, Jean, and Stephanie have been sampling surface water since the beginning of June, at sites where local residents gather drinking water.

Anna Manore’s project, which will be looking at clams, is gearing up for sample collection to begin in the Fall. “It’s been so helpful being in Iqaluit, being able to meet people and ask questions, and to get feedback on what might or might not work in terms of sampling. Of course, helping out with the dog sampling is a big plus!”

The PAWS team hopes that their work, as a whole, will provide new understanding of the sources of enteric illness in Iqaluit, and inform potential future public health interventions.


Collaborative Arctic Summer School in Epidemiology (CASE): Alaska 2016

Written by Vivienne Steele, Anna Manore, and Carlee Wright –  MSc Candidates

It is night time here at Land’s End, on the Homer Spit – yet it is still light out. The Homer spit is about 5 hours from Anchorage; it juts out into the bay for 7km and is full of tourist shops and restaurants selling fresh-caught fish and chips. Land’s End is located (surprise!) at the end of the spit, with many boats coming and going from the harbour at all hours of the day for fishing trips. The sea surrounds the hotel, with mountains all along the horizon and a volcano in the distance, too. What a place!

Anna, Carlee, LJ and Viv spent the weekend in Anchorage prior to the beginning of CASE’s 2016 Arctic Epidemiology course. Based on recommendations from locals, Anna, Carlee and Viv went for a day’s hike to Flattop Mountain. We took our time making it up to the clouded summit, seeing great views of Anchorage, the ocean, and mountains all around. The last 30 minutes of the hike were tough, requiring ‘crawling’ up by selecting the best rock-stepping options and grabbing other rocks to pull oneself up. Great views at the top. Another highlight was a walk past the Ulu museum, where the river in town hosts many salmon passing through. Always cool to see people fly-fishing and catching the big ones!

On Sunday we met with the Russian participants and headed to Land’s end via shuttle, arriving in time to enjoy a welcome dinner with the Alaskan hosts and several of the Amercian students. This was a great opportunity for us to make introductions and enjoy a casual evening together.

On Monday, we settled into the classroom for official introductions with the students and faculty, and met up with the Norwegians, as well as Lindsay and Jen Jones who had arrived late from Whitehorse! The morning was full of engaging talks: birth registries in Norway and Georgia, how to compare health data globally (including some weaknesses of WHO data!), the role of contaminants in birth cohort studies, as well as stories of Salmonella enteriditis and Hanta virus outbreaks from a member of the CDC. Anna and Carlee gave their presentations in the afternoon, and got great questions and advice from those in attendance! The day’s food highlights included clam chowder and salmon pâté, as well as a dinner of elk meatloaf and seafood tortellini alfredo. It is special to see “nightfall” from our hotel room – the sun appears to go down, but it never really gets dark!

On Tuesday, the organizers asked if anyone had seen the otter giving birth on the beach that morning – apparently otters move from water to shore while in labour. Over lunch break, we were able to check out the golden eagle perched right outside of the classroom window, who is apparently caring for its newborns. We had some great sessions including a talk about drinking water and rural sanitation, how to pass your PhD, and more student presentations (including Jen Jones). In the afternoon we headed out- halibut fishing time! It took 2 hours to boat to the fishing site, and during that time we enjoyed views of endless mountains, the volcano in the distance, sea otters, eagles, and all-around great weather! We all dropped our lines and were reeling in halibut within 5 minutes. Most of us caught 2 and stopped, but some of us kept going until a dozen or so had been caught and released. Finally, we all packed it in while the deck hands got to work filleting the fish – did you know that the halibut’s cheek is its tastiest part? Next, the captain took us to Gull Island, which houses approximately 20,000 birds in high nesting season, with some years lacking even an inch for birds to nest, as each is taken by other birds. We saw pelagic cormorants, sea gulls, black-legged kittiwakes, murrs, puffins, immature bald eagles and a golden eagle. During the day, we also saw many otters, humpback whales, and a harbour seal! A late evening walk along the ocean brought us more sea otters, some kelp, and the desire to run out into the very chilly water. We settled into the hot tub immediately after.

Wednesday was spent in the classroom, with student presentations from Lindsay and Viv, as well as an interactive lecture on spatial analysis given by Dr. Philippe Amstislavki. Dr. Andy Gilman also facilitated a great session in the afternoon; students were divided into groups of community members, scientists, and public health officials in an interesting role-playing scenario to demonstrate challenges and opportunities in risk communication. In the evening, we went into town to enjoy the fish that we had caught the day before – much halibut for all – fried, baked and roasted – delish!

By Thursday, many of us were feeling the effects of a long week, but there was still much to do and see! After talks on breastfeeding and occupational health in Alaska (where we learned about aviation safety and some of the truths behind the TV series “The Deadliest Catch”), LJ presented her proposed PhD work on sense of place and birth experiences in Pond Inlet. After lunch, we heard a great talk on leadership from Dr. Linda Chamberlain, who used inspiring anecdotes and metaphors about her dog-mushing team before giving us all an afternoon tour of her Husky Homestead! We visited the dogs and learned a lot about the history of dog sledding and the Iditarod, with many sleds, harnesses, fur coats, fur mittens and photos around for us to admire.

On Friday, the course was wrapped-up with talks on obesity in Alaska and tips on acing academic presentations, as well as each person sharing a word that they felt reflected their CASE experience (see word map). After the return drive to Anchorage, many of us met for dinner at the famous Moose’s Tooth Pub & Pizzeria. Overhead, planes (large and small) took off and landed constantly. Although it was past 10pm, it was still very bright out, and we made it back to the hostel in time for a good night’s rest.

On our last day in Anchorage, we had a big breakfast to fuel a 25-mile bike ride along the coastal trail, which was fantastic! Anna took charge of the map and guided us along the trail, which detoured past the international airport and the Spenard Lake floatplane base (the largest in the world!). There were hundreds of planes parked in the water, and constant air traffic overhead. We lay on the grass to watch 747s take off above us, and didn’t have to wait long! Although Carlee had hoped to see a moose, and many Alaskans say they see them often along the trail, we weren’t so lucky. We returned our bike rentals by mid afternoon and headed back to the hostel to pack up and take a taxi to the airport. Although we have enjoyed the land of the midnight sun, we are all secretly looking forward to falling asleep under a dark starry sky back home in Guelph. Thank you to all of the organizers of CASE 2016 for a rewarding, engaging, and unforgettable experience in Homer!

New Publication! Climate Change Adaptation-Development Nexus – A Literature Review

Sherman, M., Berrang‐Ford, L., Lwasa, S., Ford, J., Namanya, D.B., Llanos‐Cuentas, A., Maillet, M., Harper, S.L., IHACC Research Team. (2016). Drawing the line between adaptation and development: a systematic literature review of planned adaptation in developing countries. WIREs Clim Change2016. doi: 10.1002/wcc.416. Click here for free access to the article (open access).

Abstract: Climate change adaptation is increasingly considered an urgent priority for policy action. Billions of dollars have been pledged for adaptation finance, with many donor agencies requiring that adaptation is distinct from baseline development. However, practitioners and academics continue to question what adaptation looks like on the ground, especially in a developing country. This study examines the cur- rent framing of planned adaptation amidst low socioeconomic development and considers the practical implications of this framing for adaptation planning. Three overarching approaches to planned adaptation in a developing country context emerged in a systematic review of 30 peer-reviewed articles published between 2010 and 2015, including: (1) technocratic risk management, which treats adaptation as additional to development, (2) pro-poor vulnerability reduction, which acknowledges the ability of conventional development to foster and act as adaptation, and (3) sustainable adaptation, which suggests that adaptation should only be integrated into a type of development that is socially and environmentally sustainable. Over half of ‘sustainable adaptation’ articles in this review took a critical adaptation approach, drawing primarily from political ecology and post-development studies, and emphasizing the malleability of adaptation. The reviewed articles highlight how the different framings of the relationship between adaptation and development result in diverse and sometimes contradictory messages regarding adaptation design, implementation, funding, monitoring, and evaluation. This review illustrates the need to continually interrogate the multiple framings of adaptation and development and to foster a pragmatic and pluralistic dialogue regarding planned adaptation and transformative change in developing countries.

New Publication! Vulnerability and adaptive capacity of Inuit women to climate change

Congratulations to Anna Bunce on her recent publication in Natural Hazards, entitled Vulnerability and adaptive capacity of Inuit women to climate change: a case study from Iqaluit, Nunavut.

While human dimensions of climate change research in the Arctic primarily focuses on men, Anna worked closely with a group of women to understand how climate change impacted them.

Citation: Bunce, A., Ford, J., Harper, S.L., Edge, V., and IHACC Research Team. (2016).  Vulnerability and adaptive capacity of Inuit women to climate change: a case study from Iqaluit, Nunavut. Nat Hazards. DOI 10.1007/s11069-016-2398-6


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And then we made a podcast… Adventures in integrative knowledge mobilization

Written by Lindsay Day, MSc Candidate

It was with great excitement that we launched the “Water Dialogues” podcast last week at

Nearly a year in the making, the collaborative podcast is based on a Canadian Water Network-funded project, and examines the need for, and our struggle towards, using Indigenous and Western knowledge systems together to address the water issues we face in Canada today.

Audio-recordings were taken during a Water Gathering event that brought together First Nations, Inuit, Metis and non-Indigenous water experts, researchers, and knowledge holders from across Canada. Continue reading

EcoHealth at the Pegasus Conference!

The 2016 Pegasus Conference was, by all accounts, an interesting, thought provoking, and inspiring conference.  With themes of peace, global health, and sustainable solutions, conference delegates shared their expertise in research, education, field experiences, advocacy and policy to reduce disparities, inequities and social injustices. Speakers included leading voices in environmental change, justice, and health, including Naomi Klein, Anne Andermann, Janet Smylie, Peter Donnelly, among other accomplished leaders.

It was certainly an honour and privilege for our research group to be a part of a plenary session on Environmental Stewardship & Global Change; Dr. Sherilee Harper joined Dr. Jean Zigby (President, Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment), Dr. Peter Victor (professor, York University), and the impressive and fierce Linda Wood-Solomon to explore the topic via short presentations and a discussion facilitated by the very talented Petra Hroch. Continue reading