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EcoHealth Research with Indigenous Communities

Global Development Symposium: Critical Links between Human and Animal Health (May 4th-7th, 2014)

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By Jenifer Truong (Summer Student)

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The Global Development Symposium (GDS) was a three-day long conference that covered the themes around: Global Public Health, Community Empowerment, and Food and Water Security. The keynote speakers and presentations explored various interdisciplinary approaches to improving these topics of discussion. It was a fantastic networking opportunity as it brought together social, environmental, medical and veterinary scientists with policy makers, students and community members who are interested in making a positive and meaningful global impact. I feel so privileged and thankful for the opportunity to attend the Global Development Symposium as I have never felt so inspired and empowered from the speakers and presentations! Some of the highlights of GDS were the keynote speeches from Dr James Orbinski, President Alastair Summerlee, the Aboriginal Health Round Table, Pitches for Progress and many of the oral presentations.

I had heard about EcoHealth but hadn’t gotten the chance to really gain a deeper understanding of it – and through participating in the GDS, I now have a better appreciation and awareness of these relationships. The presentations have demonstrated that it is vital to seek understanding and the interactions of the relationships between human, animal and environmental health in order to break down barriers in communication of important issues to enhance research and policy. The presentation called, “What does the goat say? Lessons learned from stakeholder consultation on microinsurance in Bangladesh” displayed the importance of not only taking the NGO/client’s views into perspective, but it is also necessary to ask ourselves how the animals will be impacted. The presenter was asked to research the viability of offering microinsurance to farmers in Bangladesh for their goats. After thorough interviews with farmers and their clients, it was seen that microinsurance was not a viable option, however, the NGO/clients still pushed for the initiative to continue. This proved to be widely unsuccessful as no farmers were insuring their goats. It wasn’t until the end of the study and months of research that they found that 90% of goat mortality rates was due to a virus in which the NGO had already vaccinated the goats for – prior to selling it to farmers. They also found out that the goats being sold to farmers had a staggering…3% mortality rate! I found that this really highlights the significance of incorporating the principles of EcoHealth into research. If the researchers had taken into account the impact on goats and how they fit into this client-farmer relationship, it would have saved them a lot of time and resources! Thus, perception is key! When going into a community, we can’t only think that we will “save the world,” but we have to think about what the community’s needs are.

What I have learned about OneHealth has allowed me to truly appreciate the intricacy and care that the IHACC team puts into doing research in places like Rigolet and Nain. The oral presentations from the IHACC team, and the Aboriginal Health Round Table were an extremely valuable learning experience! I was beautiful to hear Charlotte answer the question on “what does spirit mean to you” when she expressed her views on the importance of being one with the land and the memories from the trails that her grandparents had walked on. I was also fascinated when someone brought up the discussion that important concepts can be lost when going from one language to the other – which is a struggle I am sure that researchers on the IHACC team face when collecting data through interviews. Moreover, I also really enjoyed hearing about initiatives like the Cultural-Connect Program. I think the ability to connect youth to their culture to foster a sense of community amongst adults and youth is fantastic. I would love to learn more about how we can help make an impact by continuing this program!

I was pleasantly surprised with the presentations for the Pitches for Progress. For example, I learned about the myco-tyco program that Professor Tucker incorporated into a first year class at the University of Guelph. The students were given $1 to microfinance their business idea and the students that won the competition had made over $3000 for the laptop cases they sold! Furthermore, they raised $859 to donate to the WildHearts program – a company that helps microfinance women in developing countries. Professor Tucker said that the project only had one guideline, and that is, “All transactions need to be legal.” However, someone had brought up the point about why he was not encouraging that, “all transactions should be socially responsible.” I found the feedback and compelling discussions from the pitches for progress and all of the oral presentations to be extremely meaningful and thought-provoking.

One of the biggest things that I’ve taken away from the Symposium is the importance of not only taking note, but also the need to “take action.” I loved hearing Alastair’s talk on the “Critical Links in Global Development.” Campaigns such as Bracelet of Hope and Shine a Light had all started with a simple idea to assist in solving a problem. The individual just needed to have the confidence to pursue this idea and the passion to stick with it. This is why the concept of overcoming one’s fears and building confidence is something that I will take definitely take away from this conference. Through Dr Orbinski’s talk, I am now made aware that we need to figure out how humans respond to an emergency crisis and how Canadian adaptation must be applied. This concept of new thinking and approaches to ecosphere and how we’re all related is something that I’ve taken to heart his keynote speech. GDS 2014 has not only informed me of all the research going on in the various fields, but also the impact that one person can have on their community or even the world.

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  1. Pingback: Global Development Symposium at the University of Guelph | sherilee harper