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The One Society Network is funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada (NSERC) under their Emerging Infectious Disease Modeling initiative. The Network connects researchers across Canada working to understand the broad impacts of infectious diseases, like COVID-19, and related public health policies.   

We are one of five new interconnected research networks announced by PHAC and NSERC on April 9th, 2021 in order to build Canada’s capacity to understand and manage pandemic threats, inform public health measures and complement PHAC’s existing modelling initiatives by allowing for vital information sharing in a timely manner.

The five networks will directly support short-, medium- and long-term public health decisions by building and coordinating Canada’s national capacity. They will identify gaps that can be used to prioritize more targeted infectious disease surveillance, increase understanding of the conditions that allow diseases to spread, and identify actions that will manage these conditions most effectively. The networks will also produce tools to evaluate alternative pandemic policy responses for all sectors of the economy and aspects of society, including marginalized groups. – Federal announcement https://www.canada.ca/en/innovation-science-economic-development/news/2021/04/government-of-canada-invests-in-infectious-disease-modelling-to-support-canadas-covid-19-response.html

While other networks focus on building Canada’s epidemiological modeling capacity, the One Society Network complements their efforts by providing connections with leading academic researchers in other sectors, including those specializing in economics, education, environment, Indigenous populations, marginalized communities, and other areas of health.

“Support for the One Society is based on a recognition that policy decisions in the health sector have broad impacts across all sectors of society and, equally, that policies pursued in any other sectors impact what happens in public health,” McCabe said. “The idea is that we look at it across society to understand what the total effect is going to be.”

The network is jointly led by Chris McCabe, Ph.D. (Institute of Health Economics, University of Alberta) and Chris Cotton, Ph.D. (John Deutsch Institute for the Study of Economic Policy, Queen’s University), and managed by Ellen Rafferty, Ph.D. (Institute of Health Economics).  The network grew out of previous cross-sectoral collaborations among network members to assess COVID-19 policy, including the Royal Society of Canada’s COVID-19 working group on economic recovery, Global Canada’s COVID Strategic Choices Group, and Canada’s Digital Technology Supercluster Looking Glass project.  

Working toward common goals

At times, it may seem as though health policy and economic policy are in conflict. It is important to recognize, however, that we are all trying to figure out which policies are best for the wellbeing of society. If conflict does arise, it is typically due to communications failures and differences in short term objectives and decision processes, rather than fundamental differences in what we are trying to achieve. The One Society Network is working towards improving communications and collaboration across sectors.

Health, education, the environment, and economic opportunity are all interconnected. Economic prosperity requires a healthy, educated population. And, as economies grow, their prosperity typically drives improvements in health, human rights, and the environment as well. Furthermore, our models show that responsive public health policy, effective vaccination distribution, and investments in disease prevention are not only good for health, but also for the economy and the wellbeing of society more generally. 

Breaking down silos

The network expands the connections between economists, epidemiologists, and public health officials that have developed during the COVID-19 crisis in order to foster collaboration, encourage knowledge sharing, and ensure that policymakers understand the complexity of the environments in which they make decisions.  The One Society network brings together economists with expertise in health, macroeconomics, the environment, education, agriculture, transportation, marginalized communities and labour markets, as well as epidemiologists, mathematicians and health policy experts from universities and organizations across the country. Our core team includes researchers from:

  • Institute of Health Economics
  • Queen’s University
  • University of Victoria
  • Simon Fraser University
  • University of Alberta
  • Alberta Health Services
  • University of Saskatchewan
  • University of Manitoba
  • York University
  • University of Ottawa
  • Limestone Analytics

The network also engages collaborators from many other institutions through our sectoral networks. In addition to mathematical modelling of infectious disease, the elements of society being considered by subject matter experts from the participating universities and organizations include: agriculture / food, education, the environment, the healthcare delivery and policy sectors, indigenous communities, the macro-economy, marginalized populations, supply chains, transportation and the workforce.

“It is important we learn more about how restrictions or disease outbreaks in one part of society, impact the likelihood of infection and the economic output in another part of society,” says Rafferty. “By looking at the impact of COVID-19 and future pandemics within economic and public health silos we will never truly understand how to best fight these public health emergencies.” “For example, restrictions on movement and gatherings impact transportation, agriculture, and education, and those impacts then feed back into the effectiveness of the measures” McCabe points out. “If people can’t afford to quarantine because they can’t take a week off work, or employers can’t afford to allow their staff to quarantine because their business will go bankrupt, the quarantine won’t work.”

Making links, filling gaps

The Network will predict potential impacts of policies such as lockdowns or furlough subsidies by sector and type of worker, as well as the impact to the macro-economy. The Covid-19 experience has identified several gaps in our knowledge of how society is affected by health risks and by policies to address these risks. These gaps – such as the connections between disease spread, food processing facilities, and agricultural supply chains, or the linkages between lockdown policies, transportation and air quality will be examined. In addition, the Network will provide an environment for training new researchers on the linkages between economics, epidemiology and policy that will support improved understanding and analysis for policy design and implementation.

In part, gaps in knowledge are also the result of a lack of understanding of the ways in which marginalized populations, including new immigrants, individuals who are underhoused, or those living in poverty, are affected by COVID-19 and related mitigation policies.  As such, part of our team will focus on consolidating existing research on how marginalized populations have been uniquely affected by the pandemic, and whether mitigation policies can be better adapted to suit the needs of these populations.

Particular consideration will also be paid to specific factors facing Indigenous populations, including the remoteness of many Indigenous communities, and how historical events have contributed to increased risk factors associated with the spread of COVID-19 and the severity of outcomes among Indigenous populations. These considerations will be made in consultation with Indigenous community members, and research results will be disseminated to communities in a timely fashion. This process will ensure that Indigenous communities have a voice in the direction of the research and are able to access and use the results of any analyses in a way that best conforms with the needs of the communities.  This part of the Network will build upon previous work done by Dr. Maggie Jones in the area of Indigenous economic development, see https://maggiejones.ca/ for more information. If you are an Indigenous group interest in getting involved with the One Society Network, please contact us.