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St. Michael’s helping to make Peel Region a safer and healthier community

Toronto, September 25, 2013

By Kate Taylor

A rendering of Mount Pleasant Village, a new transit-oriented development in Brampton that incorporates many of Dr. Jim Dunn’s Healthy Development Index standards. Copyright 2007 Looney Ricks Kiss Architects
A rendering of Mount Pleasant Village, a new transit-oriented development in Brampton that incorporates many of Dr. Jim Dunn’s Healthy Development Index standards. Copyright 2007 Looney Ricks Kiss Architects

Dr. Aisha Lofters published research in 2011 that found immigrant women in Ontario are not screened for cervical cancer as often as native-born Canadians, with the lowest rates being among older, poorer South Asians.

“Since we know cervical cancer and other common cancers like breast and colorectal can be successfully treated if found at early stages, and our research identified a large population was not being screened, the next logical step was to try to do something to increase screening rates,” said Dr. Lofters, a researcher at the Centre for Research on Inner City Health.

Starting with a contact at Peel Public Health, she and colleague Dr. Rebecca Lobb formed a steering committee along with Cancer Care Ontario and Punjabi Community Health Services. The group worked with members of the community to address barriers to screening – such as lack of social support, patient beliefs and fears and language – and figure out the best way to resolve them.

This work encouraged the Canadian Cancer Society’s Screening Saves Lives program to expand into Peel Region - chosen for its high population of South Asians. Still in the early stages of being rolled out in the area, the program will rely on community volunteers to act as ambassadors and have conversations with their peers about the importance of screening.

“Now that we’ve laid the groundwork in identifying who needs this intervention the most, and found the best way to inform them of the importance of screening, our intention is now to hand the project over to the community to let them expand it,” Dr. Lofters said.

Around the same time Drs. Lofters and Lobb were working to get this program off the ground, Peel Public Health approached Dr. James Dunn, another CRICH scientist, for his expertise on a separate issue: they wanted a tool that could assess the health impact of development proposals and promote community designs that encourage physical activity.

Dr. Dunn and colleagues came up with an index that uses measures such as proximity to public transportation and retail services, employment density and number of sidewalks and intersections to easily evaluate the positive and negative health impacts of development proposals.

“It’s encouraging to see cities and jurisdictions place emphasis on the importance of making new developments healthy places to live,” said Dr. Dunn. “There is mounting evidence of relationships between the built environment, health behaviours and chronic disease, and it’s important we recognize this – especially in a rapidly expanding area like Peel which is adding 30,000 new residents a year.”

About St. Michael’s Hospital

St Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in 27 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the Hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael’s Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.