Research Spotlight: Kingston Health Sciences Centre

Kingston Health Sciences researchers tackling health equity issues world-wide

Four Kingston Health Sciences Centre researchers are combining their experience with disadvantaged populations, their relationships with institutions on three continents, and a novel approach to evidence-gathering to tackle health equity issues world-wide.

ARCH, a research collaborative for global health equity, grew out of the diverse yet complementary research interests of Kingston General Health Research Institute and Queen’s University researchers Drs. Heather Aldersey (Rehabilitation Therapy), Susan Bartels (Emergency Medicine), Colleen Davison (Public Health Sciences) and Eva Purkey (Family Medicine).

“Global health isn’t just international,” explains Dr. Davison, “it’s about advantage and disadvantage, and unequal access, and working at the structural and community level on things that can benefit the vulnerable in Canada, and around the world.”

In March, the ARCH group was awarded $449,000 from the Queen Elizabeth II Scholars Program (QES) to establish The Queen Elizabeth Scholars Network for Equity in Maternal and Child Health.

“The most vulnerable mothers and children are rarely prioritized in health research or health policy, especially outside the immediate delivery and neonatal period,” Dr. Purkey says. The network aims to address the inequities in access to health services in low- and middle-income countries, where six million children die before the age of five, and where maternal death rates are still 14 times higher than in developed regions.

To do this, the project will support the research, learning and advocacy skills of 17 PhD, postdoctoral and early career researchers from the University of Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of Congo), Institute of Social work and Social Science (Haiti), the Mongolian National University of Medical Sciences (Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia), and Queen’s University (Kingston). The trainees will take part in international exchanges to conduct research and community outreach aimed at understanding and reducing disparities in maternal and child health.

“We want to develop engaged, ethical and innovative global health researchers who can advocate for these vulnerable populations, and address these real-world issues,” says Dr. Aldersey.

To build their collective experience, the group will also contribute to a common, multi-country study looking at the factors that contribute to maternal and child health inequities. This research has the potential to be boundary-breaking through its use of SenseMaker®, an innovative data-collection tool for mobile phones and tablets.

“It’s an efficient tool that enables us to get a quick picture of people’s experiences and perceptions,” says Bartels, who recently led a team using the tool to study child marriage in Syrian refugee camps across Lebanon. “It allows people to tell their stories without feeling judged or guilty, and then use the tool to interpret their stories for us without the filter of our own biases.” (Using SenseMaker, the researchers captured 1400 stories from Syrian refugees in hard-to-reach places in just eight weeks.)

Algorithms within the tool enable both qualitative and quantitative analysis of these anonymous stories, providing researchers with data patterns and contextual factors to capture common themes and identify inequities, quickly, so that researchers can go back to the communities within weeks or a few months to gain further information and begin to find solutions to these problems.

“QES is just the beginning for ARCH,” say the four researchers. “We’ll be seeking other funding opportunities to continue this kind of research.”

 

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Kingston Health Sciences Centre is one of Ontario’s 23 research hospitals that contribute to a healthier, wealthier, smarter province. Read more Research Spotlight posts on our Healthier, Wealthier, Smarter blog or join the conversation about why health research matters for Ontario on Twitter, using the hashtag #onHWS.