Dr. Jane Parmley
Epidemiologists can’t stop disasters like the next pandemic or antimicrobial resistance. Instead, says a University of Guelph One Health researcher, we need to focus on the societal aspects of these issues.
Dr. Jane Parmley is working to discover how to make our vulnerable populations – whether human, wildlife, or agricultural – more resilient, and how to make healthy decision-making easier. She says multiple perspectives and a view towards the entire health and disease system is key.
Parmley says that predicting which pathogen will become the next pandemic is really hard. Instead, we need to look at a bigger picture; one that prioritizes health promotion and health intelligence over disease tracking. She is working to figure out where the most vulnerable populations are so that researchers can work to reduce that vulnerability and prepare the populations, communities, and ecosystems to be much more adept at handling health challenges.
When Parmley is not preparing for the next pandemic, she’s finding solutions to another growing health problem: antimicrobial resistance. Once again, she’s taking a non-traditional approach to improving health in vulnerable populations.
The term antimicrobial resistance (or AMR) describes how, over time, bacteria and other microorganisms change to become resistant to the antibiotics that we use to fight them. The issue has the potential to jeopardize our healthcare system, food supply, and environment. On the plus side, we can all play a role to decrease the spread and the threat of AMR.
“The first step” says Parmley, “starts with asking the question, how do we make healthy decision-making easier?”
To Parmley, it all comes back to health promotion and behaviour change, and some of the greatest successes in health promotion have been tackling challenges like cigarette smoking. Parmley wants to understand how we can apply the skills we’ve gained from those areas to antimicrobial resistance. She emphasizes the importance of gaining the trust and perspectives of people from all demographic groups, cultures, and geographic areas. Parmley recognizes that we are all part of the problem and we can all be part of the solution.
“There are health challenges every day in our own communities,” she says. “There are people that we don’t engage within our own backyards. It’s important that we are good global citizens, but often that starts at home by asking, ‘How can we act to make our neighborhood a better place?’”
Parmley also contributes her expertise in AMR and antimicrobial use surveillance to a collaborative project funded by the joint programming initiative for AMR. She works in collaboration with other epidemiologists, public health experts, resilience specialists, and AMR specialists from Canada, Switzerland and Sweden, to gather opinions from experts…. but not the experts you would expect. The broad range of participants being consulted by her research team includes those working to stop human trafficking, grocery chain owners, pharmaceutical companies, educators, and lawyers. Their perspectives are important to understanding and managing AMR because of its diverse drivers. By examining the issue from these different perspectives, the team can identify the impacts of AMR in different areas, the initiatives that have been successful at reducing AMR, and where and how interventions could be best implemented to be most effective across the whole system.
“Having better doctors, better medications, or better disease surveillance methods is helping to create a healthier society”, says Parmley, “but we also need to initiate and support individual and societal change.”
By: Marilyn Sheen