Friday, 26 May 2017

Postcards from a public health tourist #1: Montréal, Québec, Canada

Posted by Clare Bambra, Fuse Associate Director and Professor of Public Health, Newcastle University

A few of our academics are lucky enough to have the opportunity to travel around the world to speak at conferences or explore collaborations - all in the line of work and the translation, exchange and expansion of knowledge of course.

The least we could expect is a postcard, to hear all about the fun that they're having while we’re stuck in the office watching droplets of rain compete to reach the windowsill…

So here’s the first from Professor Bambra.

Dear Fuse Open Science Blog,

I spent late April and May 2017 as a visiting Professor at the Institute of Research in Public Health, part of the University of Montréal. I was the guest of Professor Louise Potvin who is a leading international researcher in health promotion and the editor-in-chief of the Canadian Journal of Public Health. She was an amazing and generous host.

Me (bottom right) with Louise Potvin (centre) - an amazing and generous host
I had a really enjoyable and fruitful time both intellectually and socially at the Institute. It is an exciting place to be as a health equity researcher. They are leading the field in health equity research in Canada and alongside the other Montréal universities and the municipal public health agency, they have set up the joint Lea Roback Centre which examines health equity. There I was honoured to deliver the annual Paul Bernard lecture on social determinants of health – you can watch a video of the talk here.

I was also an invited speaker at the World Health Summit speaking alongside Ilona Kickbush (World Health Organization Europe) and Connie Clements (Canadian National Collaborating Centre on the Determinants of Health - NCCDH) about the legacies of the Ottawa charter. The NCCDH is tasked with integrating health equity and the social determinants of health into Canadian public health practice. Jane Philpott, the Minister of Health for the Federal Canadian government also gave an inspiring speech at the summit about the importance of the social determinants of health and her journey from being a family doctor to a leading politician.

Montréal experienced unprecedented rain and flooding while I was there
Montréal is an amazing place to visit, an extremely vibrant multicultural bilingual city with great restaurants and a very welcoming feel to it. It was very exciting to be there in 2017 as Canada celebrates 150 years and Montréal celebrates its 375th year. However, weather wise Montréal experienced unprecedented rain and flooding while I was there with many homes and businesses evacuated and the army required to provide emergency support.

Montréal is also an interesting place from a public health perspective, it’s a city with a lot of green spaces and a variety of parks and recreation areas. It’s a very safe place to be, and very walkable - unlike other areas of North America. Public transport costs are low with a flat rate on the Metro and the buses of around $3. They also have a shared bicycle scheme called Bixi - which is free for a cycle ride of up to 30 minutes.

However, Montréal and Canada are of course not without their own public health problems. There was very visible homelessness. The Montréal health gap is 11 years between the most and least affluent neighbourhoods and most significantly, the Inuit and indigenous populations have average life expectancies of only 70 years - 10 years less than the average Canadian. Inuit health is understandably a key focus for health equity researchers in Montréal - including former Fuse associate Mylene Riva. She is now researching the effects of housing conditions and food security on the health of Inuit people in Arctic Quebec.

So a very useful visit for me and I was able to make good future connections for the Fuse Health Inequalities research theme.

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