Renewing partnerships to strengthen circumpolar health systems

October 20/2014

On a recent trip to Yellowknife, Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation Director Adalsteinn Brown took his capacity building role very seriously.

The Dalla Lana School of Public Health is closely partnered with the Institute for Circumpolar Health Research and Professor Brown visited the Institute September 17 to 19 to contribute to its vision and mission renewal.

“The Institute is an important northern research hub for the University and we’ve enjoyed many years of collaboration,” said Professor Brown, also Chair of Public Health Policy at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, the Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation’s new home faculty.

“As we usher in an age of health system evolution that is deeply affected by the changing environment — both physical and political — it’s crucial that we strengthen our partnerships in the north and consider new research avenues that support Canadian health system improvement,” Brown continued.

Established in 2005, the Institute for Circumpolar Research (ICHR) brings people, facilities, and resources to bear on health-related research in the Northwest Territories and addresses health and wellness issues throughout the region’s communities and the broader circumpolar world.

Susan Chatwood, founding Scientific and Executive Director of ICHR, is working with Professor Brown to adopt health systems performance and measurement to a northern context.  With approximately 60 per cent of the Northwest Territories covered by one electronic patient record — more than any of the Canadian provinces — there is tremendous opportunity to harness technology and reduce disparities in access and outcomes between northern and southern Canada.

“The first step in health service transformation is building research capacity and keeping an open dialogue with policy makers,” said Chatwood, who is also an Assistant Professor of Social and Behavioural Health Sciences.

“With leadership support from health systems and public health experts across the University, we are partnering with local governments to transform health systems and outcomes across the north and conduct comparisons across the eight arctic states,” Chatwood continued. 

Chatwood says there is a need to avoid falling into narrow paradigm of what “health systems” mean because of people’s connection to the land.  She works with multiple disciplines using cross sector approaches that include wildlife management, education, justice, and architecture perspectives among others.

“The land as we know it is changing and it’s leaving us vulnerable to a host of public health and health systems challenges,” said Chatwood, noting that climate change has affected ice stability, weather patterns, causing bridges to collapse and complete community isolation. Emergency measures and systems responsiveness is a high priority for systems improvements and research in northern communities.

Since 2005, ICHR has supported 11 U of T students in research projects that examine health systems, emergency response and suicide prevention in the context of northern communities.  ICHR is closely linked with circumpolar centres in Alaska, Greenland, Sweden and Norway, and works to build collaborations that promote program comparisons between countries to see what gaps need to be addressed.

“Recognizing the diversity of knowledge systems within academic and Indigenous communities is crucial to fill these gaps. Public health professionals have a huge role to play in supporting harmonized approaches to a healthy community.”

On October 27, Chatwood and her colleagues will be in Toronto for Transatlantic Science Week, an event that will explore the role of research and international affairs, human rights issues and ensuring the right to self-determination in circumpolar community.

Top photo: Professor Brown helps unload float plane in Yellowknife, NT

Bottom photo: Professors Susan Chatwood and Adalsteinn Brown in Yellowknife, NT