Health promotion is key to post-pandemic reconstruction

Understandably, the attention of medical professionals over the past two years has focused almost solely on infectious diseases. But some suggest that this narrow thinking exposes us to other serious health consequences.

“Recognizing that although we have done a good job of minimizing the transmission of the virus; it comes at a cost,” says Ketan Shankardass, associate professor in the Department of Health Sciences at Wilfrid Laurier University. “Hidden evils have been created.”

He rhymes with a list of pandemic-related consequences: mental health stress for young people, food insecurity for low-income families, and psychosocial consequences for university students, to name a few. He suggests that greater attention be given to prevention or “upstream” approaches to mitigating extraneous damage to infectious diseases.

“It needs to be a more holistic approach,” he argues. “Are there ways we could have taken a little more risk of transmission that could have offset some of these health issues? For example, keeping children in school could have offset much of the social and mental health impacts on children.

Robynn Collins, a health promoter at Pinecrest-Queensway Community Health Center in Ottawa, is also well aware of the harm her community is experiencing. She often hears about financial uncertainty, isolation and the inability of residents to access vaccination clinics due to language, hesitation or mobility barriers.

But she also speaks of a silver lining emerging from the pandemic.

“We built new relationships, identified people at high risk for health consequences, and were able to engage with them in innovative ways,” she says. “Health promotion strategies have been strengthened and we have reached many more people than ever before.

Since January 2021, Collins has been doing her part in planning vaccination clinics. But what is probably most important is that these efforts have not sidelined other crucial health promotion work.

“As we focus on vaccines, we are also looking at food security, income security, employment relationships, online education, leadership and community development, and advocating against rent increases,” she says. “There is a need to look at the social determinants of health and our programs to address these issues. The pandemic has helped to highlight this: to ensure that we look at things from a holistic and integrated perspective of health.

Bronwyn Underhill, director of health promotion and community engagement at Parkdale Queen West Community Health Center in Toronto, has a similar view of the pandemic.

“On the contrary, the pandemic has highlighted the need for health promotion,” she says. She cites examples such as advocating for paid sick leave, targeted vaccination strategies based on principles of equity, and other social issues where some members of the community are disadvantaged compared to others.

“The biggest gap is an equity lens,” she explains. “When you see inequality, you have to ask yourself why. These conversations are happening now, which I really appreciate. People are asking why.”

Shankardass is grateful that innovative local health promotion work has continued throughout the pandemic. Like Underhill and Collins, he appreciated that social issues were brought to the fore and community voices grew louder in identifying ways to address challenges.

“We have a real opportunity to come out of this pandemic,” he says. “We need to collect evidence on the state of affairs and understand what are the hidden damages that have emerged during the pandemic. And then we have to make specific decisions to minimize those health issues and harms. »

Join a series of free webinars in March 2022 on resilience, recovery and renewal in health promotion. Visit healthpromotioncanada.ca/chapters/ontario/ for details. Benjamin Rempel is health writer and Janette Leroux is health researcher. Both sit on the executive committee of Health Promotion Ontario.

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