International Polar Year

A summary of health and wellness related research projects initiated under the International Polar Year

International Polar Year (IPY) is an international program of coordinated, interdisciplinary science, research and observations in the Arctic and Antarctic. While previous IPY initiatives focused on the physical sciences, the fourth IPY from 2007-08 was unique through its additional focus on health and community well-being.

Through 16 health and well-being projects on such topics as general health status, infectious disease, food security, wastewater treatment, community resiliency and traditional knowledge, Canada has been a leader in promoting work in health and social sciences during the fourth International Polar Year 2007-2008. Health and well-being are important not only at an individual level, but also at the level of the community. To provide a quick overview of Canada’s contribution to IPY science in the realm of health and community well-being, highlighted below are many of the 16 projects addressing health-related topics.

Little is known about the general health status of populations in northern Canada. To address this, Grace Egeland (McGill University) is leading the Inuit Health Survey, the largest comprehensive assessment of Inuit health in the Canadian Arctic. As a complement to a similar survey completed in Nunavik in 2004, this project provides a snapshot of Inuit health through a look at general indicators of health, diet, risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes and mental health in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, Nunavut and Nunatsiavut.

Through 16 health and well-being projects, Canada has been a leader in promoting work in health and social sciences during IPY.

While results from the Inuit Health Survey provide a general idea of northern health, it is already known that health disparities exist in the North. To understand why these disparities exist, it is necessary to look at the specific conditions, such as infectious disease, in northern populations. For example, the prevalence, distribution and social correlates of two infectious diseases that can lead to cancer are being investigated. Gerald Minuk (University of Manitoba) and colleagues are looking at Hepatitis B while Yang Mao (Public Health Agency of Canada) and colleagues are investigating Human Papillomavirus (HPV). At the same time, Philippe De Wals (Universite Laval) and colleagues are evaluating the effectiveness of a vaccination program on respiratory infections and auditory problems in Nunavik children.

Health of communities is contingent on many things and determining what is most important to a community’s well-being can be a difficult task. To assess how communities perceive and respond to significant challenges, both environmental and societal, Barry Smit (University of Guelph) and colleagues are conducting several case studies in various communities across northern Canada. While this work gives a broad sense of community vulnerability and resilience in the face of change, other IPY projects are looking in greater details at aspects like resource use, food and water. Specifically, Dawn Bazely (York University) and colleagues are focusing on how economic development through oil and gas activity is affecting northern communities while projects being led by Cindy Dickson (Council of Yukon First Nations) and Claudio Aporta (Carleton University) are incorporating traditional knowledge and modern methods to investigate community response to fluctuating caribou populations and changing sea ice patterns, respectively. Communities are sensitive to climate change, a concept that is being explored within these projects and that is complement by work Allie Winton and colleagues in the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Traditional Territory where interviews with community members are documenting traditional knowledge pertaining to climate change and its impacts on lifestyles of northern communities.

Impacts of various changes on lifestyle are being experienced throughout the North for many reasons. Work by Eric Dewailly (CHUL-CHUQ) and colleagues have been targeting how change, such as environmental, societal and cultural, is affecting the diets of northerners in relation to precursors to disease. At the same time, Manon Simard (Makivik Corporation) and colleagues are establishing local monitoring capacity to quickly identify the presence and levels of parasites in food being eaten by local communities. Finally, as Arctic communities grow and become more urbanized, effectively treating wastewater has become a pressing concern. Brent Wootton (Fleming College) and colleagues are assessing and developing constructed wetlands around the Canadian Arctic. Constructed wetlands require low maintenance, operational and energy requirements and provide a flexible and sustainable solution.

List of health and wellness related IPY Projects green hosting open source