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International Polar Year

A summary of health and wellness related research projects initiated under the international Polar year

International Polar Year (IPY) is an international program of coordinated, interdisciplinary science, research and observations in the Arctic and Antarctic. While previous IPY initiatives focused on the physical sciences, the fourth IPY from 2007-08 was unique through its additional focus on health and community well-being.


Through 16 health and well-being projects on such topics as general health status, infectious disease, food security, wastewater treatment, community resiliency and traditional knowledge, Canada was a leader in promoting work in health and social sciences during the fourth International Polar Year 2007-2008. Health and well-being were important not only at an individual level, but also at the level of the community. To provide a quick overview of Canada’s contribution to IPY science in the realm of health and community well-being, see highlighted below a list of the projects addressing health-related topics.


Little had been known about the general health status of populations in northern Canada. To address this, Grace Egeland (McGill University) led the Inuit Health Survey, the largest comprehensive assessment of Inuit health in the Canadian Arctic. As a complement to a similar survey completed in Nunavik in 2004, this project provided a snapshot of Inuit health through a look at general indicators of health, diet, risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes and mental health in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, Nunavut and Nunatsiavut.


While results from the Inuit Health Survey provided a general idea of northern health, it is well known that health disparities exist in the North. To understand why these disparities exist, it is necessary to look at the specific conditions, such as infectious disease, in northern populations. For example, the prevalence, distribution and social correlates of two infectious diseases that can lead to cancer was investigated.Gerald Minuk (University of Manitoba) and colleagues looked at Hepatitis B whileYang Mao (Public Health Agency of Canada) and colleagues  investigated Human Papillomavirus (HPV). At the same time, Philippe De Wals (Universite Laval) and colleagues evaluated the effectiveness of a vaccination program on respiratory infections and auditory problems in Nunavik children.


Health of communities is contingent on many things and determining what is most important to a community’s well-being can be a difficult task. To assess how communities perceive and respond to significant challenges, both environmental and societal, Barry Smit (University of Guelph) and colleagues conducted several case studies in various communities across northern Canada. While this work gave a broad sense of community vulnerability and resilience in the face of change, other IPY projects looked in greater details at aspects like resource use, food and water. Specifically,Dawn Bazely (York University) and colleagues focused on how economic development through oil and gas activity affected northern communities while projects led by Cindy Dickson (Council of Yukon First Nations) and Claudio Aporta (Carleton University)  incorporated traditional knowledge and modern methods to investigate community response to fluctuating caribou populations and changing sea ice patterns, respectively. Communities are sensitive to climate change, a concept that was explored within these projects and that was complemented by work Allie Winton and colleagues in the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Traditional Territory where interviews with community members documented traditional knowledge pertaining to climate change and its impacts on lifestyles of northern communities.


Impacts of various changes on lifestyle are being experienced throughout the North for many reasons. Work by Eric Dewailly (CHUL-CHUQ) and colleagues targeted how change, such as environmental, societal and cultural, affected the diets of northerners in relation to precursors to disease. At the same time, Manon Simard(Makivik Corporation) and colleagues established local monitoring capacity to quickly identify the presence and levels of parasites in food being eaten by local communities. Finally, as Arctic communities grow and become more urbanized, effectively treating wastewater has become a pressing concern. Brent Wootton (Fleming College) and colleagues assessed and developed constructed wetlands around the Canadian Arctic. Constructed wetlands require low maintenance, operational and energy requirements and provide a flexible and sustainable solution.


List of Canadian health and wellness related IPY Projects


  • Inuit Sea Ice Use and Occupancy Project (ISIUOP)

Claudio Aporta, Carleton University


Dawn Bazely, York University


  • Integrated Research on Arctic Marine Fat and Lipids

Eric Dewailly, Centre de Recherche du Centre hospitalier de l’Université Laval


  • Effectiveness of Vaccination against Respiratory Infections for Young Children of the Nunavik Region

Philippe de Wals, Centre de Recherche du Centre hospitalier de l’Université Laval


  • Arctic Peoples, Culture, Resilience and Caribou

Cindy Dickson, Council of Yukon First Nations


Grace Egeland, McGill University


  • Human Papillomavirus (HPV) in Northern Canada

Yang Mao, Public Health Agency of Canada


  • Addressing Viral Hepatitis in the Canadian North

Gerald Minuk, University of Manitoba


  • Engaging Communities in the Monitoring of Country Food Safety

Manon Simard, Makivik Corporation


Barry Smit, University of Guelph


  • Traditional Knowledge and Climate Change in Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Traditional Territory

Allie Winton, Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation


Brent Wootton, Fleming College


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