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The Pathways to Health Equity conference brought together diverse perspectives on improving determinants of health and reducing health inequities.

Taking the right path to health equity

June 13, 2016 — 

A recent scientific conference held in Winnipeg and hosted by the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy in the Max Rady College of Medicine, Rady Faculty of Health Sciences shone a spotlight on issues related to health inequity.

The Pathways to Health Equity conference, held at the Fort Garry Hotel, brought together over 230 academics, practitioners, decision makers and community organizations to present their knowledge and facilitate opportunities for new partnerships.

The Pathways conference grew out of work performed by Dr. Marni Brownell and the late Dr. Patricia Martens and funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Their work involves an ongoing suite of several studies aimed at identifying strategies to improve child health and well-being and interventions that can reduce inequities in child health outcomes.

The conference was dedicated to Dr. Martens who passed away in 2015 as a tribute to her leadership and commitment to health equity. Dr. Martens was a Distinguished Professor in the Max Rady College of Medicine, as well as the former Director of the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy and nominated Principal Investigator of the PATHS Equity for Children Programmatic Grant.

According to Dr. Nathan Nickel, Assistant Professor, Community Health Sciences and one of the conference co-chairs, there are several barriers impacting health equity ranging from social determinants of health – like income, housing, and education – to structural determinants like colonization and institutional racism.

“Simply because of where someone was born, an individual can face systematic and unfair barriers to health. These barriers need to be removed,” Nickel says. “However, removing these structural barriers cannot be done in isolation.”

Dr. Marni Brownell, Professor , Community Health Sciences and a Senior Research Scientist at the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy, also delivered the conference’s keynote address. Brownell said she hoped that participants took away from the conference a message that there are many strategies for reducing inequities and that by working together across sectors meaningful change can be realized.

“The discussions that occurred and the partnerships that were formed will help to move the equity agenda forward toward making policy changes,” Brownell said. “For example, there was session on the idea of the Basic Income Guarantee that generated a lot attention and discussion. The more these ideas are studied and discussed – particularly in venues with audiences from a number of different sectors, including research, policy and practice – the more likely they are to get into the mainstream and engage public attention and practice.”

Nickel echoed Brownell’s thoughts, noting that the conference attracted a diverse number of attendees from different backgrounds.

“I really appreciated hearing from community organizations and the work they’re doing to impact healthy equity,” Nickel said. “As well as the work that Indigenous people are doing around health and health equity and some of the innovative work being done by the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. It made me so glad to see and hear about both the research, but also the front line work being done in this area.”

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