SPHERU engages in population health research – the study of social factors contributing to the well-being of various groups within the population.

Welcome to SPHERU

The Saskatchewan Population Health and Evaluation Research Unit is a bi-university health research unit based at the Universities of Regina and Saskatchewan. Since 1999, SPHERU has established itself as a leader in cutting edge population health research that not only looks at what and the why of health inequities -– but also how to address these and take action.

What’s Happening at SPHERU

$16.6 million awarded for Mozambique project

A SPHERU faculty-led project, aiming to reduce maternal deaths in Mozambique, received $16.6 million over the next five years from Global Affairs Canada on July 5. SPHERU director Nazeem Muhajarine and project director Denise Kouri are leading a team of Saskatoon leaders and university researchers, including SPHERU’s Sylvia Abonyi, to improve health services for women and approaching barriers that prevent women’s access to care in Mozambique. The team is partnering with national and provincial health ministries in Mozambique. Mozambique has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world – 489 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2015. A team of 25 U of S undergraduate and graduate students in medicine, nursing, nutrition, and physiotherapy, will be working on the project, aimed to improve birth conditions in 20 rural communities in five health districts. The project will: Train more than 1,000 new health care workers, to improve practitioner’s training and responses to women’s needs in maternity clinics. Hire about a dozen staff members and consultants, five community workers in communities to educate people about gender equity, women’s sexual and reproductive rights, and empower women to use health facilities. Educate youth about gender equity and improve rights and health of adolescent girls by visiting schools with workers and health ministry staff. Purchase three ambulances for district hospitals, and 20 specially equipped off-road vehicles in the communities. Create a supportive network between local midwives, traditional healers and women’s leaders and engage in reaching women will receive skilled birthing care with little delay. Build five maternal clinics and renovate five existing clinics. Build 10 waiting houses, so women nearing their due date will be relocated close to a hospital. Determine if waiting homes are effective in delivering better outcomes for women. For more information on the project, check out this video with footage from Mozambique. Full U of S press release  Article in the Star Phoenix

Closing symposium at Wanuskewin Park

There was symmetry in the closing symposium for the First Nations Lung Health Project at Wanuskewin Park. “The opening for this whole project took place here at Wanuskewin Park, so the closing -- it’s fitting that we have it here as well,” Dr. Sylvia Abonyi said. Researchers, project staff, community leaders, and stakeholders from across the country, gathered at Wanuskewin Park on June 13 to recap and summarize the results of the five-year long project and decide what to do with the information on local and policy levels. “We’ve produced a lot of data in the project,” Dr. Abonyi said. “There are a lot more questions that we can answer that we haven’t already answered. We’d like to know what those (questions) are.” The First Nations Lung Health Project explored health and living conditions of people in two First Nations communities. Two data collections were conducted over the years, looking at factors such as lung function, allergy tests, basic social determinants and housing conditions. The project also evaluated individual and contextual factors on the outcomes of asthma, chronic bronchitis, and other respiratory conditions. Between the data collections, the team tried out interventions at the community level to make some changes. Throughout the project, the research team worked closely with the communities to endure research was being done in a good way, Dr. Abonyi said. The project launched two programs called the Green Tree Program and the Green Light Program. Through the Green Tree Program, school communities helped children connect the idea of a tree in nature as a symbol of a healthy respiratory system. The Green Light Program is a community-chosen intervention that addresses non-traditional use of tobacco. After four years, the number of individuals becoming free from non-traditional use of tobacco increased; the number of households free from non-traditional use of tobacco increased; and children were more knowledgeable of respiratory topics, including the respiratory system and how to keep lungs healthy. During the closing symposium, Dr. Abonyi noted that the team and co-principal investigators want to get a sense of what sort of policy and other intervention programs should be considered as the project moves forward. The symposium also served as an opportunity to consider what future studies that the two participating communities, and additional communities, would be interested in. The project, also known as “Assess, Redress, Re-assess: Addressing disparities in respiratory health among First Nations People,” was led by Dr. Abonyi, Dr. James Dosman, Dr. Jo-Anne Episkenew, and Dr. Punam Pahwa. The symposium finished with a memorial feast to honour and recognize the contributions co-principal investigator Dr. Jo-Ann Episkenew who passed away last year.

CIHR, SHRF provides funding for researchers

Two of SPHERU’s researchers learned they received funding from the Canadian Institute of Health Research. Dr. Sylvia Abonyi applied and received nearly $20,000 from CIHR to support her project, “Disparities in Respiratory Health Among First Nations People: Assess, Redress, Re-assess. Sharing Knowledge & Experience, Revealing Priorities & Directions.” Dr. Abonyi submitted the application to the Planning and Dissemination Grant -- Institute Community Support competition. The Saskatchewan provided $6,000 for the project. Dr. Michelle Stewart was also successful in receiving a CIHR Planning and Dissemination Grant. Her project, “Toward a Participatory Framework on the Social Determinants of Health of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder,” was approved for nearly $20,000 in funding for the next year. CIHR provides $17.7 million in funding    In May, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) announced they will invest a total of $17.7 million dollars in nine intersectoral prevention research projects. Dr. Lise Gauvin’s research team at Université de Montreal and CRCHUM  (University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre) were one of the nine teams recognized to receive funding. Dr. Gauvin and her team will receive $2 million of this investment to determine ways to make built environments in four cities across the country more favourable to healthy eating and physical activity. SPHERU’s Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine and Dr. Cory Neudorf will be working with Dr. Gauvin and her team as they prepare to launch MUSE (Multisectoral Urban systems for Health and Equity in Canadian cities).

Achieving impactful health research

Three SPHERU research faculty were featured in the latest issue of Discourse, University of Regina’s research magazine. Dr. Bonnie Jeffery, Dr. Tom McIntosh and Dr. Shanthi Johnson weighed in on how to achieve health research with an impact on the local community and across the country. In the feature piece, Dr. Jeffery notes that research projects throughout her career has involved community members at every stage. “To me, it makes sense that if you want to do research that has an impact at the community level, then you work with the people there and they help define what the issues are,” Jeffery says. “Then they tell us how they need that information so they can actually use it.” The story also highlights a couple of current projects for SPHERU, including reducing social isolation for seniors in rural parts of the province and Dr. Johnson’s work with the Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region to prevent falls by creating an exercise program for older adults living on their own. Dr. McIntosh noted that health research project can be more than an “interesting experiment.” He noted the questions that arise from looking to moving research projects forward, possibly extending to other regions.  He added that researchers are becoming more interested in the outcomes of their work and the value and impacts it could have economically. Check out the entire feature story here. 

Addressing mental health in the court system

Dr. Michelle Stewart and her graduate student Brittany Mario are raising awareness about people with mental illnesses and intellectual disabilities in the justice system.   In a recent Feature Story on the University of Regina’s website, the pair, and team of undergraduates, were recognized for the research they conducted into the number of people with serious mental illness and cognitive disabilities, including fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), in the justice system. The 88-page report is called, “Confronting the Challenge-- Community Supports, Stability and the Role of the Mental Health Disposition Court.”   There are two Mental Health Disposition Courts, one located in Regina and the other in Saskatoon. The court meets twice a month to focus on cases for individuals with intellectual disabilities and/or mental health issues. Since 2013, the courts have heard nearly 80 cases and have closed 36 of them. Of those 36 cases, most of the individuals have resulted in a “community-based disposition.” Only five individuals have received a sentence to serve in prison. Dr. Stewart and co-investigator, Mario, have recommendations for the system, including providing resources to hire a fulltime psychologist, coordinator, legal aid, affordable housing and other resources to assist with mental health challenges. For the full University of Regina’s feature story on Dr. Stewart and her team, click here. For the full report, click here. 

SHRF publication launches in Saskatoon

SPHERU’s Dr. Sylvia Abonyi and Dr. Sarah Oosman were among the researchers recognized for their contributions to older adults’ health research in the province on Monday. On April 10, the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation launched their latest publication in the PAC on the University of Saskatchewan campus in Saskatoon. The new publication, Impacting Seniors’ Health – The Value of Aging-Related Research in Saskatchewan, highlighted the contributions of many researchers in the province whose work has made a difference for older adults’ health. Dr. Abonyi and Dr. Oosman were not the only SPHERU faculty recognized in this publication. Last week, Dr. Bonnie Jeffery and Dr. Shanthi Johnson were also highlighted during the launch at the University of Regina. Read SHRF’s recent publication here. 

Photo Credit(s):
Northern and Aboriginal Health (SPHERU staff), Rural Health (Carolyn Tran), Intervention Research (Hilary Gough), Healthy Children (Thilina Bandara), History of Health Inequities (Saskatchewan Archives Board)