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Exploring health equity in environmental public health practice at national conference

Exploring health equity in environmental public health practice at national conference

By Dianne Oickle Dianne Oickle on November 17, 2016

Innovation Beyond Inspection, the 2016 annual education conference of the Canadian Institute for Public Health Inspectors (CIPHI) was held September 25-28, 2016 in Edmonton, AB.  Co-hosted by the national and Alberta chapters of CIPHI, the event explored traditional areas such as food and water safety along with emerging issues around tattoo conventions, float tanks, aquaponics, and insects as food.  An exciting aspect of this conference was the intentional effort on the part of the organizing committee to integrate themes around health promotion and social determinants of health on each of the three conference days, drawing attention to the integral role that public health inspectors (PHIs) and environmental health officers (EHOs) play in addressing health equity in their communities.

The National Collaborating Centres for Determinants of Health (NCCDH) and Environmental Health (NCCEH) worked with conference organizers to support the integration of health equity themes in the conference. We also collaborated to present two sessions to delegates and release several new resources for environmental public health practitioners. 

A workshop titled “Health Equity Discussions” began with NCCDH exploring the concepts of social determinants of health, health equity/inequity, equality, and the social environment as a focus of public health practice. Participants were encouraged to move away from a “deficit fix” way of thinking and towards a “justice seeking” approach, which recognizes that where there is poverty, it is society that needs fixing, not individuals. This was accompanied by a discussion by Karen Rideout of the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) of collaborations around food safety and food security issues, and the development of healthy food donation guidelines. The discussion of food security as a contributor to health equity through these two topics provided the opportunity to highlight the importance of ethical considerations (e.g., not treating the under-served as second class recipients of service) and how intersectoral partnership is a key strategy for EHOs to integrate health equity thinking in all aspects of their work.

A world café style session titled “Creating space: Enabling organizational capacity for action on health equity” integrated the work and research experience of two experts from the field. Doug Quibell of the Northern Health Region shared his work with the Partnership for Healthier Communities (P4HC) program. Discussing 22 P4HC Committees across northern British Columbia, cross-sectoral collaborations among public health, municipal, and community partners were noted as key elements to program sustainability. Doug highlighted the factors that contribute to the success of P4HC committees, which included commitment from health authority leadership as well as elected officials and decision makers, presence of coordination structures and a global vision, intersectoral dialogue, skill development, and citizen engagement. Rob Mahabeer, an EHO with Alberta Health Services (AHS), then presented his graduate thesis work on health promoting activities within the context of environmental public health.  Highlighting the fact that there is currently no bridging policy between organizational health promotion/health equity intent and operational EHO practice, his discussion of mandated activities that have unacknowledged health promoting effects (including socioeconomic and cultural impacts) showed that EHOs often have the willingness to use health promotion principles but are not trained in what they are, how to apply, when to apply, or how to account for resources used.  Upcoming initiatives include the development of a health promoting framework for AHS that is currently in the formative stages.

NCCDH and NCCEH released several new resources during the conference to support the role of EHOs in addressing health equity.

There is a lot of momentum building around the intersection of environmental public health practice and health equity.  And there is willingness on the part of EHOs and their national organization to further explore the issues.  We want to hear from you. Send me your thoughts and ideas, or start a conversation in Health Equity Clicks.

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