Two Dalla Lana School of Public Health professors awarded CIHR Applied Public Health Chairs

November 25/2014

By Elaine Smith

Developing targeted public health interventions at street youth in Kenya and Canada’s Aboriginal peoples are two projects that will be undertaken by the Dalla Lana School of Public Health’s new Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Applied Public Health Chairs.

Paula Braitstein and Janet Smylie, both Associate Professors of Epidemiology, have been awarded Applied Public Health Chairs by CIHR and the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Braitstein, who works in partnership with Moi University in Eldoret, Kenya, will use some of the funding to evaluate an existing approach to testing, counselling and treating the regional population for HIV, an effort called FLTR (Find, Link, Treat, Retain), to see if it is effective in identifying and treating people living with HIV earlier in their course of disease. If enough of the population gets prompt intervention, it should eventually lower the incidence of new cases in the area.

“We want to catch people earlier in the course of the disease before the socio-economic impact is felt; parents dying and leaving orphaned children, for example,” said Braitstein, who left Indiana University to take up the CIHR Chair at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health and build global health research capacity within the faculty and at Moi University.

She also hopes to apply the FLTR method to the country’s large population of street youth as a way of opening the door to a complete range of other opportunities for them, such as harm reduction from substance use and street life.

“I can’t fix a lot of the underlying problems, but I can stop them dying of HIV,” Braitstein said.

Smylie is also focused on improving health in an underserved population: Indigenous children and their families in Canada. Her chair, one of 14 awarded from among more than 100 applicants, is a partnership between the Dalla Lana School of Public Health and St. Michael’s Hospital and is aligned with the School’s newly created Institute of Indigenous Health.

“I’m excited that Aboriginal health is a priority for CIHR,” said Smylie, who is Métis. “People recognize that it’s unacceptable to have systemic health inequities between Aboriginal peoples and the rest of the population and that we need to work together to address them.”

She plans to work with Aboriginal communities and health researchers to ensure that their projects are tailored to the specific needs of each community and take into account indigenous world views and practices.

“This chair recognizes that health interventions have to be locally adapted and that not one size fits all for Indigenous people,” Smylie said. “I aim to Indigenize implementation science research through supporting and documenting exemplar research projects; producing a series of policy guidelines in concert with the national network of Aboriginal health organizations; and by sharing best practices that recognize the diversity that exists.”