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OVC Researcher Focused On Building Resilience To Tackle Big Health Challenges

Epidemiologists can’t stop disasters like the next pandemic or antimicrobial resistance. Instead, says a University of Guelph One Health researcher, they need to focus on the societal aspects of these issues.

Dr. Jane Parmley, a professor in Ontario Veterinary College’s Department of Population Medicine, is working to discover how to make vulnerable populations – whether human, wildlife, or agricultural – more resilient, and how to make healthy decision-making easier. She says multiple perspectives and a view towards the entire health and disease system is key.

Parmley says that predicting which pathogen will become the next pandemic is really hard. Instead, it is important to look at a bigger picture; one that prioritizes health promotion and health intelligence over disease tracking. She is working to figure out where the most vulnerable populations are so that researchers can work to reduce that vulnerability and prepare the populations, communities and ecosystems to be much more adept at handling health challenges.

Having better doctors, better medications, or better disease surveillance methods is helping to create a healthier society, but we also need to initiate and support individual and societal change.

When Parmley is not preparing for the next pandemic, she’s finding solutions to another growing health problem: antimicrobial resistance. Once again, she’s taking a non-traditional approach to improving health in vulnerable populations.

The term antimicrobial resistance (or AMR) describes how, over time, bacteria and other microorganisms change to become resistant to the antibiotics used to fight them. The issue has the potential to jeopardize the healthcare system, food supply, and environment. On the plus side, everyone can play a role to decrease the spread and the threat of AMR.

“The first step” says Parmley, “starts with asking the question, how do we make healthy decision-making easier?”

To Parmley, it all comes back to health promotion and behaviour change, and some of the greatest successes in health promotion have been tackling challenges like cigarette smoking. Parmley wants to understand how to apply the skills gained from those areas to antimicrobial resistance. She emphasizes the importance of gaining the trust and perspectives of people from all demographic groups, cultures, and geographic areas. Parmley recognizes that “we are all part of the problem and we can all be part of the solution.”

“There are health challenges every day in our own communities,” she says. “There are people that we don’t engage within our own backyards. It’s important that we are good global citizens, but often that starts at home by asking, ‘How can we act to make our neighborhood a better place?’”

Parmley also contributes her expertise in AMR and antimicrobial use surveillance to a collaborative project funded by the joint programming initiative for AMR. She works in collaboration with other epidemiologists, public health experts, resilience specialists, and AMR specialists from Canada, Switzerland and Sweden, to gather opinions from experts, but not the experts you would expect. The broad range of participants being consulted by her research team includes those working to stop human trafficking, grocery chain owners, pharmaceutical companies, educators, and lawyers. Their perspectives are important to understanding and managing AMR because of its diverse drivers. By examining the issue from these different perspectives, the team can identify the impacts of AMR in different areas, the initiatives that have been successful at reducing AMR, and where and how interventions could be best implemented to be most effective across the whole system.

“Having better doctors, better medications, or better disease surveillance methods is helping to create a healthier society”, says Parmley, “but we also need to initiate and support individual and societal change.”

Originally published on the University of Guelph One Health Institute.

Listen to Dr. Parmley talk about how One Health not only applies to global issues but is important for tackling issues in our own neighbourhoods: