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Thursday, 16 August 2012 09:51

Physician to talk in Swift Current about a cure for Canadian democracy

Written by  Matthew Liebenberg
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While personal health is a good recipe for a good life, a Saskatoon doctor believes a focus on health will also do wonders for Canadian democracy.

Dr. Ryan Meili will be sharing his message about a new approach to politics in Canada during a discussion of his new book at the Swift Current Public Library Aug. 21 at 7 p.m.
He is a family doctor at the West Side Community Clinic in Saskatoon and also the head of the Division of Social Accountability at the University of Saskatchewan College of Medicine.
The book — A healthy society: How a focus on health can revive Canadian democracy — was published in April.
“What I’m really trying to highlight through the book is this concept of the social determinants of health, the things that really have the biggest impact on health outcomes, ... and highlight the ways in which that concept could actually change the way we do politics,” he said.
After the initial spring launch of the book in Saskatoon and some events in Toronto and Ottawa, he is now focusing on promoting his vision in Saskatchewan with presentations in Swift Current, Yorkton, Prince Albert and Regina. In the fall, there will also be a book launch in New York and other Canadian cities.
“I’m certainly looking forward to coming to Swift Current and hearing what people think there,” he said.
According to Meili, the link between politics and health might not always be clear to people, but it intuitively makes sense once they learn more about it.
“How much money you make, what kind of schooling you got, where you live, what you can eat, that makes a big impact on your health,” he said. “But often when we actually talk publicly about health it comes down to health care, doctors, nurses and hospitals. People lose track of those upstream elements that are what makes a real difference.”
Through the stories of patients the book illustrates how human health is a measure of a society’s success. Meili said his work as a physician in inner city Saskatoon, rural Saskatchewan and in Africa played a huge role to inform his views on the social determinants of health in people’s lives.
He practised in a rural town in Mozambique, a former Portuguese colony in southeast Africa. The country is one of the poorest in the world with a life expectancy at birth of 52 years.
“It’s just so clear how lack of access to income, lack of access to education, poverty, lack of nutrition, has a huge impact on health outcomes,” he said. “There actually is some degree of access for people regardless of their income to health care, it’s just that in such a poor country the services are so basic.”
Meili believes the proposals for democratic reform in his book should not be too difficult to implement, as it would simply mean looking at issues such as income, education and housing through a health lens.
“What would be challenging is really doing the good work to make evidence based policy to convert the way we decide on the direction of the government to actually reflect what’s needed to improve health outcomes,” he said.
In 2009, he was a candidate in the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race, but he does not want his book to be seen as representing a party political point of view.
“That’s why I keep coming back to this concept of health because health isn’t a left-wing or a right-wing desire, it’s a human desire,” he emphasized. “Health is a common goal for people and it’s a way to reach common ground to move beyond some of the artificial partisan barriers that sometime separate people.”

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