World Health Day - How our graduate students are contributing to complex societal issues

Posted on Monday, April 3, 2017

World Health Day

How our graduate students are contributing to complex societal issues –

Stéphanie Maltais

PhD– Globalization and International Development

Tell me about your journey

My first expatriation mission goes back to 2007 when I worked in Casamance, in the south of Senegal, on a project to support the victims of antipersonnel mines. Seeing that the needs were not only abroad, I wanted to work the Inuit communities in the far north of Canada. In 2010, following the aftermath of the major earthquake that hit Haiti I decided to join forces with Handicap International.

In the meantime, I completed a bachelor's degree with a major in political science and a minor in international cooperation from Université du Québec and a master's degree in international development and humanitarian action from Université Laval. I am currently a Ph.D. candidate in international development at the University of Ottawa. My areas of specialization are humanitarian, health, resilience, management and sustainable development. My thesis deals with the resilient management of health crises in fragile states, specifically a case study on the management of the Ebola epidemic of 2014-2015 in Guinea.

In addition to my doctoral studies, I am involved in Canadian non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including the Canadian Red Cross. I am a supervisor on the Emergency Response Team during major crises. In 2016, I had the opportunity to participate in the Syrian refugee reception operation in Montreal.

What motivated or inspired you to do research on world health issues?

Seeing some gaps in my humanitarian experiences abroad, I understood the importance of research to improve practices and facilitate operational work during major crises. For example, when I was posted in Haiti, I witnessed the somewhat difficult transition between the humanitarian phase and the rehabilitation and development phase.

Subsequently, I decided to pursue a PhD by working on the resilient management of health crises. Resilience means the ability to anticipate risks, limit impacts and rebound as a result of a shock. For me, the resilience of fragile states is essential for dealing with large-scale crises. The importance of the continuum between emergency intervention and long-term development has been discussed for more than twenty years, in particular with a view to making humanitarian actions more sustainable. Thinking of resilience before crises offers the opportunity to put in place strategies that aim at the sustainability of humanitarian interventions and complementarity between actors, institutions, activities and objectives.

Why is your research important in today’s society?

Humanitarian workers generally prefer to be "on the ground", in the heart of the action, rather than pursuing doctoral studies. However, research and the social sciences are essential to analyzing health crises since the governance, social, economic and cultural aspects influence the health situation of countries.

Based on the literature, it is possible to note that the Ebola epidemic in West Africa is an example of gaps in the prerequisites of resilience. In particular regarding the governance capacity of local authorities, qualified staff, basic medical resources and the mobilization of local actors.

It is not possible to fully transfer good crisis management practices from one case to another because of the particularities of each case. Crisis management models adopted in so-called "developed" countries are not necessarily applicable in fragile states in view of certain characteristics of the latter.

What would you like to see or accomplish in the future?

Health crises are particularly common in some areas. Ideally, I would like my research to benefit fragile states precisely in Guinea, where I will focus my study. Several infectious diseases and endemic diseases affect this subregion of the world. So, if my research makes it possible to question the management of health crises, it will already be a positive point.

I would also like to enrich the literature on resilient management in the humanitarian context and facilitate a better transition from humanitarian to development. I want to continue my research in the field and improve the work of professionals working in the humanitarian sector.

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