Lori Sigurdson letter - Final - Digital - 28May15

Lori Sigurdson letter - Final - Digital - 28May15


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Edmonton (Treaty 6 Territory)-Welcome to our fourth and final part of UAEM Alberta’s position statement on the upcoming provincial election! Today’s post considers how each of the major parties stands in relation to issues of diversity and equality. If you need to catch up before reading this new section, you’ll find part one here, part two here, and part three here.

As always, feel free to connect with us here or via Facebook and Twitter. And one final reminder to vote on May 5!

Diversity and Equality: The Liberal Party platform features several measures aimed at supporting respectful treatment of Alberta’s diverse population. Some of their proposed policies include the teaching of consent in sexual education classrooms, as well as greater enforcement of the Human Rights Act as a means of combating the continued wage gap facing women in the work-force.

Both the PC and NDP parties also stress the need to build better and more respectful relationship with the province’s Indigenous populations. However, their proposed methods for cultivating such a relationship are distinct. The NDP platform promises Indigenous communities better access to safe drinking water, more substantial representation of their histories and cultures in school curriculum, and the repealing of Bill 22 (a levy imposed on First Nations businesses by the PC government, which was passed without the consultation with or consent of those groups). The NDP also notes that they will lobby for a federal inquiry into Canada’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.

The PC platform of course makes no mention of Bill 22. While they too promise an increase in safe drinking water, the PCs notably emphasize providing support for Indigenous peoples wishing to enter trades careers. There is a certain irony in this promise, given that many Indigenous groups have been highly critical of how industrial projects like the Keystone Pipeline ignore Indigenous land claims and treaty rights, as well as damaging natural resources.

The Wildrose Alliance Party has famously employed several racist and homophobic candidates, and are currently in favour of repealing Section 3 of Alberta’s human rights legislation. Neither their policy briefs nor their primary platform make any statements expressing support for diversity and equality in the province.

UAEM Alberta is rooted in a concern with how inequalities related to geography, race, income and gender (among other factors) play a primary role in shaping whether or how persons have access to the medicines that they need. We believe that by stressing the needs of the market over the specific needs of the world’s most vulnerable populations, these inequalities are perpetuated, often with deadly results.

While issues like the status of Indigenous peoples and nations or more accurate sexual education might seem peripheral to our aims, then, we are in support of such measures because they work to address the impacts of the same types of systemic problems that plague the global health system. As long as particular populations remain marginalized, the health care they receive can only continue to reflect those oppressions. We believe that a truly global health care necessitates equality at every level.

Other relevant topics include: Child care, United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, women’s shelters.

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Edmonton (Treaty 6 Territory)-Welcome to part three of UAEM Alberta’s extended position statement on the upcoming provincial election! If you need to catch up, you can find part one here, and part two here. Today’s post takes on the environment, a topic that has played a crucial role in leader’s debates and party platforms, and which is also relevant to UAEM concerns.

As always, feel free to connect with us here, or via Facebook and Twitter. And remember to vote on May 5!

Environment: As a province, Alberta comes consistently under fire for our damaging influence on the environment. And it’s hard, perhaps impossible, to argue with the fact that the tar sands and our reliance on coal make us a huge contributor to greenhouse gases and other violences perpetrated on our environment.

As an attempt to manage some of these effects, the PC government instituted a Carbon Capture and Storage program in 2008. The program, which has been widely critiqued by many including by the current leader of the PC party, essentially paid large energy companies including Shell to attempt to contain carbon dioxide within the ground.

The PCs themselves may even be moving away from this approach, but Prentice remains emphatic in his support of the energy and resource sectors, which are a key source of employment in the province. Both the Liberal and NDP parties agree on this point, but they are also, as Notley noted in the recent leader’s debate, critical of the stance that we cannot make shifts toward more environmentally sound practices without negatively impacting these industries.

The NDP’s platform includes a green retrofitting  loan program, the phasing out of coal as a source of energy in the province, as well as support for research into alternative energy and other environmental standards. The Liberal Party proposes similar measures, including a price on carbon emissions and elimination of coal-fired plants. Their platform also emphasizes the need for the protection of Alberta’s water, deeming it a public good in need of the utmost protection.

The Wildrose Alliance’s policy statement on the environment (another discussion placed separate from the party’s “5 Priorities” platform) calls for the protection of Alberta’s land, water, and air, largely through an alignment of current practices with existing policies and regulations. The document constantly stresses the province’s responsibility to private landowners, a stance which evades the fact that areas like the tarsands have environmental effects that are massive in scope and scale. The somewhat vague commitments of the document also reflect the party’s longer history of de-emphasizing environmentalist concerns, which played a major factor in the last provincial election particularly when then-leader of the party, Danielle Smith, expressed disbelief that climate change is legitimate phenomenon.

In a previous post related to our participation in Earth Hour, UAEM has stated unequivocally that climate change and its wide array of effects is a global health issue. On this matter, then, we are pleased to see two major parties emphasizing the need to reduce Alberta’s carbon footprint and protect its natural resources. We are also supportive of the ways in which these conversations are framed by both the Liberals and the NDP as global responsibilities. Conceptualizing ourselves as global citizens responsible for more than the environmental health of just our province or our country is a crucial step toward reckoning with the global nature of many contemporary health struggles.

We might then propose that these parties consider treating their discussions surrounding climate change and environmental policy as a model for how they might frame their positions on other issues. The environment is, perhaps, a more obviously and visibly global challenge than others. But not only does climate change directly relate to some of the other topics on which these parties are campaigning, but those other issues (including the two we have already discussed above) would benefit from a similar approach that asks Albertans to consider how their choices impact the world around them in a way that far exceeds territorial borders.

Other relevant topics include: Transparency in building and enforcing environmental standards, gas drilling, use of fresh water in deep well injections

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Edmonton (Treaty 6 Territory)-Welcome back to our series detailing UAEM’s position on the upcoming provincial election in our province! If you missed part one, which details logic and aims of this series, as well as our position on each major party’s position on health care, click here.

Today’s post is on education, another critical issue in this election and to UAEM Alberta. As always, feel free to comment here, or to connect with us via social media. And remember to vote on May 5!

Education: As UAEM Alberta is a university-based organization that focuses partly on changing how drug research and development occurs and is subsequently patented, this is another issue close to our hearts. Post-secondary education has seen some substantial cuts under the PC government, and the party’s recent move to institute key loopholes in their tuition ‘cap’ has made college and university unaffordable for many. Their current platform also stresses the need to align post-secondary education with “labour market demands”, a move that could continue to yield cuts to all areas not directly supportive of Alberta’s most profitable industries.

Opposition parties responding to these cuts differ in their proposed approach. The NDP platform calls for a full tuition freeze. The Liberal party calls only for a reduction, but their platform also notes the need for program diversification and the easing of student debt through an increase in bursaries and scholarships. The Wildrose Alliance has made no specific statements about funding beyond the promise to attempt to make education more affordable, but, like the PCs, their post-secondary education policy brief (which, importantly, is not part of their main platform document) place heavy emphasis on trades education and partnership with industry.

UAEM Alberta believes that a strong and well-funded post-secondary system is a critical component of global health. A system that is accessible and affordable will make education available to a wider range of students and research areas, a move that we feel is essential given that many NDs and NTDs are neglected not just at the development and distribution of medicine phases, but at earlier, crucial research stages.

Again, however, we would like to hear more about how each of these parties might support students studying in Alberta to contribute – not just to Alberta’s economy and culture, but to our world more broadly. Scholarships or other funding mechanisms devoted to such programs, as well as other forms of support for such work at the provincial level, could act as a model for other provincial funding bodies, as well as national and international organizations. We want our students to consider themselves part of, and responsible to, a global research community, and hope to see this aim reflected in how our provincial government thinks and talks about post-secondary research.

While we would by no means suggest that trades education and partnerships between education and industry are inherently problematic, we also feel that the duties of global citizenship are at times unavoidably in tension with the aims of the market and major industries. Our education system therefore needs to support a wide range of teaching and research in order to continue to sustain a healthy and balanced dialogue with governmental and corporate forces.

Election ImageImage Credit: ericzchu (Flickr Creative Commons Licensed)

Edmonton (Treaty 6 Territory)-Since the 2015 provincial election was called several weeks ago, UAEM Alberta members have been hotly debating the role our group can and should play in these discussions. Our organization’s concerns are both global and local in nature, and taking a strong position in the political debates specific to Alberta could negatively and directly impact our ability to speak and be heard concerning those wider global issues which our group has always primarily emphasized.

At the same time, however, debates related to access to medicines, global health, and advocacy for needs-based rather than market-based approaches to drug R&D are necessarily political ones. Moreover, the types of global shifts that UAEM as a wider organization supports are dependent not just upon federal and international changes, but also the types of smaller-scale, localized shifts that take place within our provinces, cities and townships.

To this end, UAEM Alberta has developed this position statement explaining our stance on some of the key issues in the upcoming election. We have stopped short of fully endorsing a sole political group, in part because we feel that no single party is doing enough to draw attention to how specific actions and policies have not just provincial, but global, implications related to UAEM’s aims and areas of focus. However, this document also makes no claims toward political neutrality, either; particular parties and policies are simply more aligned with UAEM Alberta than others, and any attempt to mask or deny this fact would be both disingenuous and harmful to our own work.

We’re excited to be involved in this conversation, and we encourage you to reach out to us here on the blog, and on Facebook and Twitter, to continue the types of debates over these issues that have animated our own offices and listservs over the few weeks. In the interest of avoiding a wall of text, we’ve organized our position statement according to specific issues of interest and relevance to our group. We’ll be posting our discussions of each issue as separate blog entries in the coming days, so stay tuned!

First, a quick primer for those of you not from Alberta or not yet familiar with its political landscape. This statement focuses on four primary parties: The Progressive Conservative (PC) Party, led by Jim Prentice, who are currently in power as the majority leaders of the province; The Wildrose Alliance Party, led by Brian Jean, who are the official opposition; the Liberal Party, led by David Swann; and the New Democratic Party, led by Rachel Notley. Unless otherwise indicated, all information about party policies and statements are taken from their respective platforms. A link is provided to each of these documents the first time they are mentioned in our statement.

Health Care: Given UAEM Alberta’s areas of emphasis, this is perhaps the most directly relevant issue being debated in the campaign. The Prentice government’s most recent budget features some significant health care cuts, which will have a particular impact on front-line services. The PC government has also instituted a healthcare levy, arguing that the fee will allow Albertans to contribute more directly to the future of publically funded medicine in the province. However, many have noted that the fund is not linked to any specific expenditures, and as such has no transparent measures indicating how it will aid the government in making meaningful change in the system.

Moreover, the NDP argues in their platform that this method of taxation ignores the vast income inequality in the province (a tendency they suggest plagues the PCs more broadly, and which is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that the PC budget features no tax increases for large corporations, despite the fact that 70% of Albertans stated they would be in favour of such a move).

The Wildrose Alliance Party’s promises to aid what it calls the “broken” and “bloated” health care system involves what they have called a wait-time guarantee. However, critics have noted that the plan, which involves increasing the number of procedures that will be shifted either out of province or to private facilities, opens the door for a multi-tiered health care system in which those with the financial ability to do so will be able to jump existing queues.

Finally, the Liberal Party has released what they call a 5 Point Plan for improving the province’s health care system. Their approach calls for increased funding in several critical areas, including community-based prevention education and primary care and disease management. However, their simultaneous emphasis on auditing and reducing costs within the system itself also seem to open up space for potentially harmful cuts in the future.

UAEM Alberta is against cuts to front-line services and the increasing privatization of health care. We are also opposed to any provincial health-care levies and taxations that perpetuate rather than address the types of inequalities that our group opposes at the global level. Affordable health care, treatment and medication should be available to everyone on a needs-based level regardless of age, gender, religion, sexuality, ability or income level.

However, we also feel that no party is currently doing enough to emphasize the truly global nature of health care concerns. We want to hear not only about how our provincial government will create hospital bed space, rapid treatment time and affordable access for Albertans, but how our province can begin to take a leadership role in helping to create these conditions worldwide.

Other relevant topics include: The Liberal party’s proposed policy concerning vaccination, Liberal and NDP calls to emphasize support for mental health and addiction issues in the province, Conservative plan to re-organize health-care districts.

7943643126_6a58868185_bImage Credit: Government & Heritage Library (Flickr, CC Licensed)

Edmonton (Treaty Six Territory)-Recently, the global health community observed World TB Day. While perhaps a better known condition than many diseases typically placed under the Neglected Diseases (ND) banner, research on and treatment for TB remains chronically underfunded and underemphasized. World TB Day attempts to combat this financial and representational neglect through a range of public health informational and advocacy campaigns, and if you follow us on Twitter you will have seen the links and retweets we provided to just some of these efforts.

In this post, though, rather than only re-circulate those discussions and images, we wanted to come at the issue of TB’s neglect in a slightly different way: through popular culture. Now, I know what you’re thinking (and spoiler alerts abound for several films and books, none more recent than 2012): I’ve seen tons of people in books and movies with TB!

And it’s true, many of you probably have seen TB represented in one form or another. It’s a fixture in a lot of classic works of Russian literature (including Crime and Punishment and The Idiot), it makes a memorable appearance in Hugo’s Les Miserables, and those of you reading from Canada may also remember that TB ends up taking the life of Anne of Green Gables’ childhood friend Ruby late in the series.

Of course, there is perhaps no more familiar a representative of TB in contemporary popular culture than Nicole Kidman’s character Satine in Moulin Rouge. Kidman’s illness progresses throughout the film, culminating in the memorable sequence (pictured below) in which she tragically succumbs to her condition during her best and biggest performance.


Image/Screen Capture Credit: PhillyMag

The important thing to note here is not a complete absence of TB within popular culture, but the ways in which the illness is continually constructed as a problem of the past. Many of the examples cited above are more than 50 years old. Moulin Rouge was released in 2009, but set in 1881. The most recent filmic adaptation of Hugo’s work, though released in 2012, is set, like the original, in 1832. Even the popularity of ‘vintage’ images like the one I’ve used as a header to this post participate in the construction of TB as a condition of yesteryear.

With one notable exception (that we’ll get to in a moment), then, TB in the North American and Eurowestern popular imaginary is continually relegated to the past, either because the texts dealing with its effects are (like the Russian novels cited above, and the original version of Les Mis) now more than a century old, or because, like Moulin Rouge, they are set in a time period that is not our own.

The temporalities of these representations have material effects. Most importantly, the lack of engagement with TB as a condition that is still very much current for many people in the world renders it a problem that seems specific to some other time and place. This not only contributes to some of the misinformation that circulates about TB (like the idea that no one in North America suffers from it), but it also undermines any sense of urgency that such narratives might generate.

An important exception to this general trend is, of course, The Constant Gardener. Both the novel and its movie adaptation tell a story, loosely based on events in Nigeria, about an activist whose wife was murdered because she had learned too much about fraudulent drug-testing of a new TB drug (under the cover of HIV treatment) with horrifying side-effects taking place in Kenya. And both certainly do well at exposing some of the effects of market-driven competition between drug companies, as well as the disproportionate ways in which non-Eurowestern countries tend to suffer as a result. The book also raises the importance of fears related to a multi-drug resistant TB outbreak.

2475292319_7b17614bce_zImage Credit: Jonathas Scott (Flickr, CC-Licensed)

However, a single mainstream narrative set in the contemporary context is not enough. If a disease is neglected by current accounts, even those that are entirely fictional, that condition’s effects and the need for investment in research, development and treatments, remain abstract and removed from the daily life of all but those most immediately effected.

This is part of why UAEM strives to function as an interdisciplinary and broad-reaching organization: we are working to produce change on several fronts, and even areas that might seem mostly unrelated (such as medical research, policy development and analysis of popular culture) can in fact share critical connections that have very real effects in the world.

Have any objects of popular culture ever made you think differently about access to medicine and/or global health? Let us know in the comments or on Facebook and Twitter!

Megan Farnel is a PhD candidate in English at the University of Alberta, and serves as UAEM Reporter.


EdmontonEarth Hour is nearly upon us, friends of UAEM Alberta! If you follow our Facebook and Twitter feeds, you’ve probably seen us encouraging you to vote for the city of Edmonton in the People’s Choice category of WWF’s We Love Cities campaign. For those of you not familiar with the history of that program, this blog post is going to start by providing some background.

You may also be wondering, though, why UAEM Alberta is focusing on issues related to global climate change, and it’s not just because our chapter is in Edmonton! There are actually some important connections between neglected tropical diseases and global warming patterns. So the second part of this post will detail some of those connections, making the case that climate change is necessarily a central issue in broader discussions of global health.

What is the We Love Cities Campaign?
The WWF’s Earth Hour program, a grassroots campaign encouraging awareness of and action against climate change, famously began with a series of “lights off” events, in which people worldwide coordinated to turn off all non-essential lighting at a set time. Since then, the movement has grown in both scope and scale, and one component of that shift has been the Earth Hour City Challenge. The program recognizes those cities that the WWF deems to be doing the best work to build sustainable, safe-energy urban centres.

Last year, Edmonton took the crown of Earth Hour capital of the world! This year, Vancouver has been awarded that honour (congratulations, YVR!), but voting is still open for the People’s Choice category. And that’s where you come in! You can follow this link to vote for Edmonton; you can also tweet your favourite things about YEG under the hasthag #weloveedmonton, or upload photos to Instagram using the same hashtag.

But Why Is UAEM Alberta Involved?
We admit, of course, that as an organization situated in Edmonton we’re hardly unbiased in the competition aspect of the Earth Hour City Challenge! But we’re also getting involved in and publicizing these events because there’s a lot of existing research indicating that neglected diseases and global climate change are in fact interconnected phenomena.

6045733462_cb0be8d4bb_zPhoto Credit: NIAID

A rise in annual temperatures has already been identified as a potential cause for a rise in the number of malarial mosquitoes in high-altitude areas like Tanzania and Kenya. Malaria is not classified as an NTD, but researchers fear a similar effect on other tropical diseases transmitted by flies and mosquitoes.

And indeed, some have argued that we are beginning to see precisely these types of shifts take place partly as a result of climate change. Dengue is an NTD with no known curative treatment, and which can be fatal when it develops into dengue hemorrhagic fever. This mosquito-borne viral disease, the WHO notes, has recently surged in many tropical and subtropical countries, and has re-emerged throughout Asia and the Americas as well, in part because dengue mosquitoes “reproduce more quickly and bite more frequently at higher temperatures” (par. 5).

Research in this area is still at an early stage, and many scientists currently disagree about the level of impact climate change is having, and will have in the future, on NTDs. However, it is becoming increasingly apparent that some connection between the two is indisputable. So UAEM Alberta encourages all of you not just to vote for Edmonton in the We Love Cities campaign, but to mobilize in other ways that recognize the direct connection between our planet’s health and our own. (And while you’re at it, feel free to share the types of actions you take in the comments on this post, or connect with us on social media!)

Megan Farnel is a PhD Candidate in English, and the UAEM Alberta reporter.