U of A led research team gets $1.2-million dose of federal funds to help prepare for next public health crisis

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A University team of Alberta led researchers has received a million dollar injection of federal funds to help politicians better steer their way through the next global health crisis.

Dr. Christopher McCabe, the chief executive of the Institute of Health Economics (IHE) and a professor of health economics at the University of Alberta, is part of the cross-disciplinary team that recently received $1.25-million in federal funds. The team will be made up of experts in economics, labour, environment and health, among others. Their initiative will be focused on informing how policy during future pandemics will affect all areas of society.

McCabe said that there has recently been an idea that politicians have to decide between making choices for health or for the economy. In reality, he said, the two are deeply related.

“We’ve just got one society and whatever you do with one bit has an impact on another bit and decision-makers need to understand those dynamic effects,” said McCabe.”With COVID, they didn’t have access to that evidence base… By developing this one society approach, breaking down these silos, we hope to put them in a much better position in terms of the evidence of their decision making next time around.”

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For instance, McCabe said that Alberta’s policy requiring people who have symptoms of, or test positive for COVID-19 to isolate at home for two weeks was a health-focused policy. However, he said that with many people not having access to paid sick leave the labour implications meant many people couldn’t afford the isolation leaving the requirement with low buy-in.

Most of the money the team received will be spent on training post-doctoral fellows to teach them how to conduct their research within this collaborative approach.

“Our aim is to create this cohort of experts who know how to work together, who think in that cross-disciplinary way,” said McCabe. “Instinctively they are ready to work this way and to meet the needs of decision makers properly.”

On top of training the next generation of academics and researchers, the team is working to understand the effects that “long-COVID”, the effects of COVID-19 beyond a diagnosis or hospitalization, will have on a variety of sectors. McCabe said they want to learn what long-term effects the disease will have on people’s health as well as what implications it will have on the economy and the workforce.

“Many people who leave hospital and are on track of beating the infection,  continue to have symptoms. Extreme fatigue, brain fog, there’s a range of these and now we’re seeing evidence they last up to six months afterward,” said McCabe. “We really aren’t sure what it’s going to last or what the burden on the health system or the impact on labour market participation, the impact on education is going to be.”

McCabe said COVID-19 highlighted the need to look at health policy from multiple angles. He noted that past health crises have either been highly deadly or highly infectious, but not both leading.

“I’m really pleased that this investment has come forward now, it’s one of those where the best time to invest in this is probably 20 years ago, while the second best time is now,” said McCabe.

dshort@postmedia.com

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