National Nursing Student Week 2015

National Nursing Students Week is an annual event, hosted by the Canadian Nursing Students Association [CNSA], that occurs in November intended to celebrate nursing students nation-wide in their hard work and accomplishments. It is an opportunity that allows the achievement so of nursing students throughout Canada to be showcased to the community. This year, National Nursing Student Week was from November 15th – November 21st. Each year, there is a significant theme chosen for National Nursing Student Week that reflects the nursing student population and nursing in general. This year’s theme is “Nursing the Mind,” with an emphasis on the importance of self-care amongst all nursing students.

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It is no secret that nursing as a post-secondary program of study is competitive, rigorous, and extremely demanding, to say the least. Not only do nursing students face upwards of 20-25+ hours of school hours a week, on top of a heavy course load, they must also complete anywhere from 6-24+ clinical placement hours a week as well. Overall, it is quite a difficult program, making it quite easy for nursing students to overlook their own self-care and well-being. Nursing students are easily overwhelmed with their work and with school, solely focused on the care of others, making it ironic for them to neglect their own health. This week’s theme helps to emphasize the importance for nursing students to consider their own health and wellness as a top priority as well.

While it is important to work hard and be dedicated in school, it is also equally as important to take care of yourself and make time to ensure that your needs are met. That is the focus for this year’s National Nursing Student Week. The goal for this past week was to take some time out of a nursing student’s day to relax, de-stress, and do something they genuinely enjoy. Some suggestions include, but are not limited to, taking a walk for a few minutes, sitting down and catching up with some friends, reading a book, etc. This advice can even extend towards all students because it is evident that a lack of self-care is an issue that is consistent amongst a student population.

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Ryerson has celebrated National Nursing Students Week on an annual basis as Ryerson has its own chapter of CNSA. Ryerson’s chapter of CNSA conducted a variety of events in the past week to celebrate National Nursing Students Week. Some of the events included offering free snacks for nursing students on campus, information on mental health and self-care, opportunities to relax and enjoy other nursing students’ company in the nursing lounge, etc. With the focus being self-care, the events were centred on ways in which nursing students could find the time throughout their day to relax and rest; give themselves the opportunity to re-charge and clear their busy heads.
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Being a nursing student at Ryerson in my third year, I am all too familiar with the chaos and intensity that accompanies my program. I have experienced the large number of demands that being a nursing student calls for and more often than I’d like to admit, I have overlooked my own needs in order to meet my academic and career needs. For a long time, I found it very difficult to find the time to allow my mind and body to rest and simply enjoy myself. This past National Nursing Students week has allowed me to reflect on what I can do to enhance my self-care practices in the future. It has taught me that relaxation and rest is very necessary in every individual’s life and that no matter how busy your day may be, there is always time for you to pause and rest. I have learned that while my academic and career goals are a priority and something I need to be working very diligently to accomplish, my own health and wellness is also a priority. I am more than just a nursing student, I am also a young person who enjoys life and wants to experience everything that life offers. I want to stop overlooking the joyous things in life and allow myself to take a break once in awhile. National Nursing Student Week 2015 has taught me that no matter how demanding and how stressful life may seem, there is always time in the day – whether that be 5 minutes or an hour – to take care of yourself, and your own health and wellness. As a nursing student, I have the responsibility to care for others – as well as myself.

If You’re Stressed Out and You Know it Clap Your Hands!

Stress can be difficult to define. Metabolically it causes our body to release hormones which affect our mood and cause inflammation which is damaging to our overall physical and mental health. Even that wasn’t much of a definition. Stress seems to have varying definitions as it affects individuals differently, some thrive on stress while others buckle from the pressure. Defining stress is as difficult as describing how it feels; exhausting, hungering, painful, tight, irritating, angering, and depressing give a bit of a range. I might not be able to give a good definition of stress, but it is certain that stress is not good for your body or mental wellbeing. Chronic stress is associated with most major diseases, such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer, and with mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. Research has found that depression and anxiety rates are high among university students and it is no surprise as exams and coursework can be very stressful. What is important for any student is to find a way to manage their stress and to cope with it. There are a plethora of stress management techniques but one that has been the most beneficial in my life is yoga.

 
Yoga has been found to be an effective stress and anxiety reliever. Studies comparing stress levels of yoga practitioners and non-yoga practitioners have found that stress and inflammation go down with yoga practice. There have even been studies where yoga is compared to other therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) which is a popular form of psychotherapy that works to change the way you think and act. These studies found that while the other therapies were effective, yoga seemed to bring about more and different positive effects. This is not to say that therapies should be stopped or replaced by yoga, but perhaps yoga should be included as part of the therapy. Looking at studies that are somewhat more relevant that involved undergraduate students, found that yoga helped with perceived stress and was found to raise mood and decrease anxiety; a tool that may be very helpful in the coming weeks.

 
Yoga is a time when your mind can fall away from work and studying and move internally to focus on your body. It’s funny how such a big part of our lives can be forgotten so quickly when we are forced to focus on something else; exams and assignments float away and the release of built up tension in your muscles smacks you in the face. In yoga you feel every shift in every muscle in your body, it is a very active form of movement even though it seems very passive from the outside. Yoga requires strength and endurance as you work to properly and energetically contort your body. The postures allow your muscles to stretch which is where the idea of the “release of tension” comes from. Not only is yoga or even just being active good for your body due to the physical release of stress, it also good for your mind.

 
Mental health studies have found that being active, including yoga practice, will raise mood. In the case of yoga this could be because it allows for meditation or personal reflection. Being able to reflect is paramount for personal growth; it is a major source of learning. When one can reflect on their actions and thoughts they can find out new things about their life and how they really feel. This may seem terrifying but it is extremely useful. When you have an unfiltered opinion of yourself it allows you to see who you are and what you think of yourself; it helps you to answer big questions like: am I happy? You don’t really need yoga to partake in personal reflection, but it does provide you with the time to do so and combing reflection with physical activity may help to clear your mind and allow for deeper thought.


Reflection is something we need in life and finding a way and the time can be difficult but it will be beneficial in the end. Figuring out who we are is a hard task and it takes a lifetime; it’s not something we decide in a day. Reflecting on our life choices as we make them will help us through the process of finding ourselves and will keep us grounded in reality. There is a lot of pressure on young people today to make big life choices in a small amount of time; it’s no wonder we’re all stressed out. Having to decide what you’re going to do with the rest of your life in four years is difficult. However, one thing to remember is that there is no law that stipulates you must decide your life trajectory right away or that you only have one shot in life; having more than one career is becoming normalized in Canadian society. Looking at myself and my friends, we certainly did not stick to plan A, some of us are on plan E already; it takes time to find what you want. Don’t be afraid to make the wrong the choice and try to avoid letting it stress you out, there’s always a plan B. Go after what you want in life and don’t be afraid to let that change, you don’t know where it might take you.


Ryerson has a Centre for Student Development and Counselling located in JOR-07c, where any student can go to receive counselling and learn more about mental health. If you have feelings of depression or need help managing your stress it would be advantageous to contact the centre. Additionally, if you are interested in trying yoga, Ryerson Moves is putting on free yoga classes (mats available) every day in SLC for the rest of November to combat end-of-term stress. For 40 minutes at varying times of day you can journey up the fifth floor of the SLC (room 508) and hopefully destress a little. If this is your first time trying yoga be sure to inform your instructor and tell them about any injuries you may have had. Yoga can be dangerous if not done properly, so if it doesn’t feel right it probably isn’t.

Sugar Sugar

I read an interesting article today called the Your Retirement Plan May Be Inside Out by Robert Laura. Now you may be thinking, what does this have to do with the title? Well I’ll get there. To sum up the article: we look at retirement wrong. We focus so much on saving money and working hard in order to reap the benefits in the future, we forget to take care of our health. So I dare ask, it worth it? Is it worth putting your health on the back burner so you can save for an unforeseeable future? Well I don’t. But I, along with many others, are guilty of doing it. Now, I’m not saying don’t work hard and hustle, but don’t do it at the expense of your health. Just because 50 Cent’s motto is to “get rich or die tryin” doesn’t mean yours has to be. And in light of recent events, you can see even after his great hustle, he is still struggling. So, instead, you should work on a no-regrets retirement plan. This is where you take care of your health first. Or else, your future health will diminish and you’ll end up literally dying/decreasing the quality of your life. Now here is my segue to the topic at hand: today is World Diabetes Day and 1 in 3 people don’t know they have diabetes. 

This should scare you. People with prediabetes have a blood sugar level that is higher than normal but are not considered diabetic. Unlike type 1 and 2, prediabetes can be reversed through healthy lifestyle changes. Unfortunately, if type 1 diabetes is left untreated, then your chances of developing type 2 increases. With type 2, severe complications occur like diseases of the heart, kidney, eye and problems with erection and nerve damage. Now, this blog is not meant to scare you too much, rather scare you straight. Like most diseases, prevention is key. When it comes to diabetes in particular, a healthy lifestyle is the key, lock and door. However, some people are predisposed to diabetes due to uncontrolled circumstances like your ethnicity and family history. So, Aboriginal, Hispanic, Asian or from African descent and/or have blood relations to someone with diabetes you should be cautious. The other slew of risk factors can only be confirmed by a doctor. But that doesn’t mean if you aren’t at a higher risk, you aren’t AT risk. In fact, the World Health Organisation predicts that diabetes will be the 7th leading cause of death by 2030.

So, where do you want to be in 2030? 

The Canadian Diabetes Association to combat WHO’s prediction hold regional events in order educate and prevent the disease. In fact, Ryerson has its own club dedicated to educating students known as the Ryerson University Chapter. But, if 1 in 3 people don’t know they have diabetes, what are the odds of someone stopping and inquiring more? That is why the club strategically held an interactive event with free games, prizes and desserts, the 4 words students gravitate to.

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The event was a great success as many students stopped by to learn more and take pictures. But I believe the RU Chapter can do more. What about a Sugar Party? Now this is bound to get students attention. A sugar party would involve the song Sugar Sugar playing in the background – for reverse psychological effect – and a health care professional that would debunk and confirm myths from facts in a casual setting. This would also allow diabetics to tell their story and connect with fellow Ryerson students.

Now let me get to the really sweet part. The CDA RU Chapter has a monthly contest that you can easily win from. This month the theme is Healthy Study Snacks where you have the chance to win 2 movie tickets! All you have to do is follow and tag @ru_cda on Instagram with your healthy study snack recipe and picture.

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What can you do now? Grab at least one friend and take the online test created by the CDA: http://www.take2minutes.ca/

It may take longer than 2 minutes for those of you who are like me and don’t know a lot of your personal information. But it is sure to be a bonding and possibly life changing experience!

*The medical and statistical information in this post comes from the Canadian Diabetes Association website.

I will end this by scaring you straight with Laura’s words:

“Unfortunately much of retirement planning today is fear driven. People are constantly being programmed to believe that their biggest concern should be running out of money. It’s so perverse and far reaching that people actually sacrifice the things that are most important to them in the hopes of fixing or addressing them once they’re financially set in retirement. The reality is, running out of money is nothing compared to running out of family, friends, health, and ultimately time.”

A Halloween Wish

DSCN1398“How was it?”

“Terrifying”

Over a thousand years ago when the Celtic people roamed throughout what we call Europe, a tradition we know as Halloween was born. The Celts broke up their year into four pieces as we do to this day with the seasons. The first day of winter for the Celts lines up with November 1 on our calendar and on this day they celebrated the end of the harvest with the festival of Samhain. On Samhain the ghosts of the dead were able to wander with the living. The Celts would leave offerings of food and drink for the dead, and celebrate the festival with bonfires, games, and the carving of vegetables; sound familiar? As time rolled on, other religions began to take form and dominate the culture of Europe. Christian missionaries began to venture out into Europe trying to convert the “Barbarians” including the Celts.  The Christians made it a habit of theirs to take the festivals of the people they were converting and change the meanings to ones of more Christian values. With that the Christians took Samhain and made it All Saints Day which is still celebrated on November 1. However, as we know today the Celtic festival of Samhain was too important and ingrained into the people that it could not be entirely destroyed by the Christians. Even though the festival of Samhain has changed and become our Halloween, the idea of celebrating death and the dead is still here with us thanks to the Celts.

 

The original festival of Samhain did not have a focus of evil and the macabre, that was created by the Christians because they believed the gods and spirits of the Celts to be demons and devils. The focus of Halloween is now evil and most importantly getting scared, which I do quite easily, but I remid myself that it’s just a bunch of hocus pocus and then I check under my bed of course. On October 29 I was absolutely terrified thanks to the Ryerson chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, known as Students for Wishes, at their annual haunted house. After running and screaming blindly in the dark, damp, and dingy basement of a dilapidated house on St. George street, with monsters and ghosts creepily stalking and increasing my heart rate, I learned about the foundation. The Make-A-Wish  Foundation has been granting the wishes of terminally ill children for over 30 years beginning in Phoenix, Arizona with the granting of Christopher James Greicius’s wish to become a police officer. In 1983 the Make-A-Wish  Foundation came to Canada thanks to Nigel Brown and Robb Lucy from British Columbia who personally made the wish of a girl named Debbie come true. Since then, chapters of the Make-A-Wish  Foundation have been established all over Canada including student run chapters at Ryerson and the University of Toronto.

 

Students for Wishes is a fundraising arm for the Make-A-Wish  Foundation at  post-secondary schools. The Ryerson chapter has been in operation for the past three years and every October they put together a terrifically terrifying haunted house in partnership with the University of Toronto chapter. Students for Wishes has the same goal as the Make-A-Wish  Foundation in that they operate to fundraise money so that the wishes of more children can be granted. At Ryerson specifically, Students for Wishes wants to raise $10,000 by the end of the upcoming winter semester. The haunted house was just one of their major events, the next is their Hairaser which is another opportunity to contribute to their cause and get a haircut. On February 4 from 1:30pm to 4:30pm in Cara Commons which is on the 7th floor of the Ted Rogers building, Students for Wishes will be hosting Hairaser where for just $10 (for guys) or $15 (for girls) you can get your hair cut or for $5 have it styled or dyed blue to show your support for the association and all the good work they do. The hair will also be collected and donated to Continental Hair Toronto in support of their wigs for kids program. For all of the events Students for Wishes hosts they donate 100% of the money they collect to the Make-A-Wish  Foundation of Canada. If you are interested in volunteering or becoming a member of Students for Wishes you can contact them through their website, Students for Wishes Ryerson University.

 

I was not aware of the Student for Wishes association at Ryerson and I am very happy to know that they do exist and are working to make children’s wishes come true. It is devastating to think of children who may not have the opportunities that we have all had and knowing that they have the chance for one of their wishes to come true is warming. Halloween is my favorite time of year and Students for Wishes has made it even better, a day that is full of evil has become a little less terrifying and even more full of magic with the knowledge that life does not have to be like Halloween. Evil doesn’t run rampant in our streets, there is goodness in our streets too, you simply have to look for it sometimes.

Good Food and Good Times

This past Tuesday, October 20th, I attended a free event hosted by the Good Food Centre.

For those of you who don’t know, the Good Food Centre (GFC) is one of the equity services provided by the RSU (Ryerson Students’ Union). It is one of the oldest post-secondary relief programs in Canada. GFC provides hunger relief for those in need by offering services as well as free non-perishable food items, and fresh produce. To read more about our amazing Good Food Centre please click here! Or if you want to stay in the loop through Facebook you can like their page here.

The workshop I attended is called Eat Up Meet Up: Fermentation 101. It is part of the Eat Up Meet Up cooking workshop series. The purpose of this series is to bring together post-secondary students and give them the opportunity to learn new skills, recipes, and food related knowledge. Which is exactly what we did on Tuesday.

We learned the basics of fermentation and it’s nutritional value. Then we attempted to make our own fermented food (sauerkraut) and ate a delicious vegan meal afterwards. Tofu tacos with avocados and sauerkraut, with salad, and cherry perogies for dessert. Yum!

Tofu tacos with salad on the side

Tofu tacos with salad on the side

Cherry perogy topped with icing sugar

Cherry perogy topped with icing sugar

So what exactly is fermentation and how does it work?

It works through a process called lacto-fermentation. There are beneficial lactic bacteria that are naturally present on cabbage or other produce, in the air, or on our hands such as lactobacilli. These lactobacilli ferment the sugars in the cabbage. The brine (water saturated with salt) used creates an anaerobic (without oxygen), acidic environment, which allows for the growth of beneficial bacteria and stops harmful bacteria. It is beneficial not only because it extends shelf life, it is easier, faster and more sustainable than canning but also because it enhances nutritive value and creates many enzymes and probiotics.

Where and when did it originate?

It originated before refrigerating and freezing was possible, it was a way to preserve foods and provide nutrients during the winter. It dates back in Eastern Europe to the 9th century but now exists in almost every culture.

For more information check out this website: http://www.culturesforhealth.com/how-to-ferment-vegetables

So to put our new knowledge to the test we tried making sauerkraut. If you’re like me and haven’t really had sauerkraut before let me explain to you what it is. The word sauerkraut means “sour cabbage”. It is finely cut cabbage that has been fermented by lactic acid bacteria, which are the same good bacteria found in yogourt.

There are many health benefits of sauerkraut. Because it is uncooked it contains live lactobacilli and beneficial microbes, and it is rich in enzymes. The fibre and supply of probiotics help improve digestion and promote the growth of healthy bowel and intestinal flora, protecting against diseases of the digestive track.

At first I was taken aback at how yummy it was. The only experience I have ever had with sauerkraut was when eating perogies but I don’t even think I tried it so I was a complete sauerkraut newbie. I had no clue sauerkraut could be eaten with other things such as tacos or salad.

All in all this was an amazing experience and I cannot wait until the next one coming up on November 3rd, they haven’t announced what exactly we will be learning yet but you should join us! Like the Good Food Centre on Facebook and they will be creating the event page for it soon.

But anyway, the process of making sauerkraut was actually quite simple (even I could do it and I am culinarily declined!) see below if you want to learn how to make it.

SAUERKRAUT RECIPE

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In Conversation with Stephen Lewis

Human immunodeficiency virus, or more commonly HIV, is a deadly and destructive infection that has plagued our world from, potentially, the late 1800s onward. Researchers believe that HIV can be traced to a type of chimpanzee in West Africa and that contact with their blood through hunting is what allowed the virus to enter the human population. HIV and AIDS came to North America in the mid 1970s and in 1981 appeared on the global medical radar when the level of infection was out of control and the pandemic and pandemonium began. As fear of this unknown killer virus spread through the Western world people began to look for answers, solutions, and wrongly, someone to blame. The scapegoat for HIV and AIDS in the 1980s and into today has been homosexual men as this was a major population the virus infected, while this was entirely false the discrimination still exists and is still stigmatizing. In reality, there are several risky behaviours that put someone at risk for infection with HIV. Also, transmission occurs because the individuals partaking in these behaviours are unaware that they are infected with the virus or that the people they are engaging with are. Unfortunately, the spread of HIV is only one of the problems in this discussion, the treatment of HIV and AIDS and the funding required are an entirely separate demon. This is merely an introduction to one of the most controversial and unsettling discussions our world has had and will continue to have as the fight against HIV and AIDS goes on.   

 

This past Wednesday evening I had the pleasure of attending one of the Stephen Lewis conversations, which is an ongoing series of discussions put on by the Faculty of Community Services and Ryerson University in collaboration with the Planetary Health Commission. The discussion, co-hosted by Dr. Alan Whiteside, was on the AIDS pandemic and where we are now in its development. Stephen Lewis is currently a professor of distinction at Ryerson and at one time was the leader of the Ontario New Democratic Party, UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF, Commissioner on the Global Commission on HIV, Board Member of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, and the co-founder of the Stephen Lewis Foundation which works with community-based organizations in Africa that are trying to end HIV and AIDS. Dr. Alan Whiteside is an internationally recognized academic and AIDS researcher, he is the co-author of numerous articles and books regarding AIDS, and he established and is the executive director of the Health Economics and HIV/AIDS Research Division at the University of Natal in South Africa. These are two very short biographies of two very remarkable men who exposed some of the truths of this horrible disease to the world and continue to do so. Both Stephen Lewis and Dr. Alan Whiteside focus their HIV and AIDS work in Southern Africa where the virus is still rampant and where their discussion on Wednesday was localized. I will try to relate what was discussed so as to provide a better understanding for those who could not attend.  

 

It is important to note that the vocabulary in health has changed; we say that people are living with HIV and yes that’s true in Canada, there are people living with HIV because they have access to medicine and can remain on that medicine. However, this vocabulary is not necessarily applicable to Southern Africa where people are dying from HIV, where it is still a threat as it once was in Canada. It is believed that HIV has killed over 30 million people since 1981, and that 2 million people are infected annually. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) 1.2 million people died from AIDS-related causes in 2014. HIV is a virus that we know how to prevent and control, and yet there are at least 6 million people infected with HIV in Southern Africa and 400,000 new infections every year. What is going wrong? Why is it that we have the answers but still haven’t solved the problem?

 

Looking at prevention, there are some very easy ways to slow the spread of HIV. As mentioned above there are certain risky behaviours that put us at an increased risk for HIV infection, these are most commonly having unprotected sex and sharing infected needles. The reason men who have sex with men (MSM) are more readily infected is that HIV is taken up by the body more easily during anal intercourse rather than vaginal. With the added dangers of not using a condom it is more than likely that an untreated individual with HIV will spread the virus to their partner. Unfortunately, the homophobia that is endemic to Africa does not help. Homosexuality is illegal in some African countries. Homosexuals are driven underground and fear death if they are outed, which makes access to medication even more difficult. Another risky behaviour is sharing needles with infected drug users. When intravenous drug users (IDU) shoot up, their blood enters the needle and is then passed on to the next user thus spreading HIV. IDUs have the highest risk of infection as they have direct blood to blood contact with HIV, this makes transmission extremely easy and the virus can spread throughout the community and beyond fairly quickly. One solution to this problem is safe injection sites, such as the Insite in Vancouver, which provides a clean space as well as equipment and medical staff to ensure that IDUs are safe while they are injecting themselves. It may seem odd to help someone inject themselves with illegal drugs that harm them, but these people are suffering from an addiction and still have the right to health. After all, they are still human and if they are going to use drugs we can at least make sure they are doing so safely and negating the spread of disease and avoiding potentially deadly overdoses.

 

Other at risk groups are sex workers, if they are having unprotected sex, and most notably women. In Southern Africa women are the population with the highest infection rates of HIV. The reason women have such high infection rates is because they face sexual violence. Women are often raped and abused sexually and this is the gateway for their infection. These women then have children and pass the infection onto their offspring, who will not live a long or enjoyable life if not given medication. Within the infected female population in Southern Africa, teenage girls have the highest rates of infection; they have 8 times the level of infection compared to boys in the same age group (15-18), again due to sexual violence. This is an at risk population that does not have an easy solution. How do you stop girls from being raped? Unfortunately, I don’t know the answer but I do know that if these girls are given medication and resources they can stop the spread of HIV to their children and other sexual partners and live a much better and longer life. If medication is the answer to this problem and we have the medication, then why is the disease still spreading. The answer is simply that these people are not getting the medication. They belong to stigmatized and oppressed groups that no one cares to think about and often are left to die. HIV infection is in itself a stigmatizing factor in Africa; add in the fact that you are a homosexual, a drug user, a sex worker, or a woman and people stop caring whether you live or die. Aside from the oppression that keeps people from their medication, there are rumblings that global AIDS funding given to African governments keeps disappearing after it is given out.

 

Corruption within African governments is not a new phenomena and it doesn’t seem to be going away. Both Stephen Lewis and Alan Whiteside commented on the way Southern African countries are run by their kings and while the King of Swaziland has a jet his people can’t seem to find their HIV medication. There are billions of dollars raised and donated to AIDS funds every year and for some reason the grassroots organizations in Southern Africa aren’t seeing this money. Where is it going? The United Nations (UN) stipulates that global AIDS funding needs to be distributed through HIV and AIDS committees which give the money to governments and presumably health departments to be used for medication, education, and the spread of resources so that infected individuals can live. However, people are still dying and being infected and kings are buying jets. Of course, some people in Africa are getting medication but money is still evaporating. The only way to determine where this money is going and to make sure it is going to the right places is through auditing. Neither Mr. Lewis or Dr. Whiteside knew why these governments are not being audited. What makes this reality even more terrifying is that AIDS funding is beginning to flatline globally. While the global funding is not going down very much it is not getting any higher and there is a risk of it beginning to diminish. Countries are slowly stagnating with their funding, such as the Netherlands which cut its AIDS funding by 1 billion Euros. Additionally, at the UN the funding for communicable diseases is starting to be targeted by non-communicable diseases as they begin to take a stronger chokehold on global populations. The funding pie is now being sliced for more diseases and more causes and this means that eventually HIV and AIDS will begin to lose funding. This leads into a much larger ethical discussion that is beyond my scope, but I will leave you with a question: how do you decide which diseases need more funding, how do you decide the cost of human life?

 

Dr. Whiteside did have one suggestion for the issue of AIDS funding and it was to be smarter about the way researchers and organizations go about asking for money and how it is spent. Dr. Whiteside was explicit in that governments should be responsible for the health of their constituents and that non-government organizations (NGO) should be there to pick up the pieces and to remind governments of the diseases that are being forgotten. Unfortunately, this is not the case in Africa at the moment. The grassroots organizations are the ones providing health to the people of Africa and the money is going to the government. So one solution is to get the money to the organizations on the ground and skip the corrupt kings and health ministers. How this will be done still needs to be determined.    

 

In our society we don’t always think about the threat of AIDS. However, prevention is shockingly simple and that’s probably the more devastating side of this story. A simple condom or having access to safe and clean injection sites- in essence having harm reduction policies in place will protect us. HIV and AIDS have been devastating our world for over 30 years and they are not going away unless everyone takes the responsibility to be safe. Behaviour change is difficult and it takes time but isn’t it worth it? Isn’t your life worth wearing a condom?

 

HIV and AIDS are two topics that require lengthy conversation and attention and that is why I will be writing about them again in another post on December 1, World AIDS Day. In the meantime, to learn more about HIV/AIDS visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, UNAIDS, the Stephen Lewis Foundation, and the World Health Organization. One last side note, free condoms and lube are available at the Student Centre, as well as at Ryerson’s Medical Clinic (KHW 181). Outside of Ryerson but still close to campus there is the Toronto People with AIDS Foundation at Sherbourne and Gerrard and the Hassle Free Clinic at Church and Gerrard (above Starbucks) where free medical testing is also available.  

Eat Think Vote: The Politics of Hunger

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On September 23rd, The Good Food Centre and Rye’s Homegrown put on Eat Think Vote:  The Politics of Hunger as part of DisOrientation 2015.  The topic of the event was food security and framing it as an issue for the upcoming federal election.  Despite being one of the wealthiest countries, food insecurity has remained high and stagnant over the past decade.

Michael Kushnir, the Vice President of Services with CESAR, described food as “central to every community on earth” yet 4 million Canadians lack access to sufficient and healthy food.  This includes 1.5 million children who are disproportionately affected by food insecurity.  This works out to 1/10 Canadians and 1/6 children being food insecure.  Post secondary students are also disproportionately affected by food insecurity.  In the 2013/2014 school year, 2500 Ryerson students accessed food banks, which have become a staple on university campuses.  With food insecurity being such a prevalent issue in Canada, why has the issue been absent since an election was called?  Eat Think Vote set out to make food insecurity an election issue… as it should be.

The upcoming federal election is being called one of the most important elections, and will greatly affect the path Canada takes and its future.  Eat Think Vote included discussions by two of the candidates running in the Toronto Centre riding on the issue of food insecurity.  While the Conservative and Liberal parties were not in attendance, Linda McQuaig of the NDP party and Colin Biggin of the Green Party shared their personal and party views on food insecurity.  As this is such an important issue to take into consideration when casting your vote in October, here are the platforms on food insecurity presented at Eat Think Vote:

Colin Biggin- Green Party:

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Biggin described how the food many Canadians eat comes from places like California as opposed to the surrounding areas.  While this works for economists, it’s not working for us.  Canada is not as self sustainable as we should be and should strive to be considering the cost of oil and the droughts in areas we get our food from.  Biggin discussed the current situation of farmers in Canada; many are unable to sustain themselves on farming alone, are being pushed out by industrial farms and have no one to carry on their work once they retire.  Biggin’s discussed the Green Party wanting to support younger farmers, small farms as opposed to industrial size and support helping people onto the land such as immigrants.  He noted the Green Party opposes the temporary worker program and would like to see participants in that program be able to immigrate here fully and paid good wages.

Biggin also connected the issues of food insecurity and with other issues in the Green Party’s platform.  He discussed the need for families to be able to afford food.  The Green Party plans to respond to this issue through a number of policies including a guaranteed income which would allow people to afford food.  This would be done through an amalgamation of several social programs and a top up program.

A question from the audience lead to a discussion of Northern, remote and Indigenous communities.  Biggin would like to see food in those communities made more affordable by encouraging more businesses to go into that area (there is currently one) and by subsidizing transportation costs.  Biggin also mentioned that a national school nutrition program is included in the Green Party’s platform.

Linda McQuaig- NDP Party:

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McQuaig began her presentation on food security by describing how striking it is that one of the essential basics to our well-being is invisible as an election issue.  She described her career as an author and journalist, focusing on income inequality, and drew many connections between inequality and food insecurity.

McQuaig showed concern about the increasing inequality in Canada and how food insecurity is a big part of this inequality.  She went on to say that a reliance on food banks is not a secure way to access food and that the quality of food in food banks is not healthy.  She also endorsed a school nutrition program policy as food is key to children’s health and ability to learn.  She went on to discuss how seniors are greatly affected by food insecurity.

McQuaig presented a variety of NDP platform policies that would decrease food insecurity in Canada by addressing inequality.  These policies include putting $400 million dollars towards the Guaranteed Income Supplement which would lift 200 000 seniors out of poverty.  Second, the NDP plans to implement a $15 federal minimum wage which would lift 100 000 people out of poverty.  She claimed this would set a national standard and put pressure on the provinces to raise their minimum wages.  Third, the NDP plans to introduce a national childcare program at a maximum of $15 per day.  This would alleviate poverty in allowing women to work and earn an income as opposed to staying home due to not being able to afford childcare.  The NDP would also create a universal drug program, invest in affordable housing and restore the 36 billion dollars that has been cut from public health care.  The NDP plan to pay for these programs by raising corporate taxes which would result in an extra 7 billion dollars per year.

McQuaig went on to discuss her concerns about the environment.  She believes Canada has been an obstructionist in world talks on climate change and thinks we should be a key player in these talks.  She has concerns about preserving water ways, farmer’s land, fisheries, and feels we need to address the issue of climate change for any type of a sustainable future.

A question from the audience raised the concern of post-secondary students and growing food insecurity in the face of rising tuition fees.  McQuaig and the NDP recognize the problem and would consider earmark funding to provinces specifically for reducing tuition and reducing the student debt burden.  In this discussion, she raised the point of post secondary institutions resorting to private philanthropy in the face of reduced funds resulting in the rich having influence in shaping post-secondary education.

To my fellow post-secondary students, we have a voice and a vote.  Two out of four parties in Toronto came out to a student-led and mostly student-attended event to say that food security should be an election issue and provided policy ideas to decrease food insecurity.  On October 19th, go out and vote!

Get Outside

A man and dog walking near Humber River

Having spent my childhood running through cornfields and reading in the shade of huge oak trees, I sometimes find it hard to live in Toronto. I had always assumed that my longing to feel dirt in my fingers and the grass between my toes was because of this childhood. While, it definitely plays a role, I am becoming more conscious of just how important nature is to everyone’s well being.

In 2009 a study done by the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found that the closer you live to nature, the healthier you are likely to be. This was found to be true for people living in cities which had plenty of green spaces. (Luckily, we live in Toronto, a city with tons of green spaces.) So being outside makes you healthier, but why? There are several theories. One is Vitamin D intake. The more time we spend outside, the more Vitamin D we soak up, the stronger our immune system. Another theory is that being outside improves our sleep as the natural sunlight helps to set our internal clock. Rather than relying on fluorescent lights and alarm clocks, this internal clock set by nature, helps to normalize our hormones (which can have the added benefit of weight loss).

Even beyond our internal clock and Vitamin D, being out in nature has been proven to make us happy. A study from the British Journal of Sports Medicine has provided proof that being outside causes “happiness, or the presence of positive emotional mindsets, broadens an individual’s thought-action repertoire with positive benefits to physical and intellectual actives, and to social and psychological resources”.

Even the dirt we walk or roll on has a part to play. Scientists at the University of Bristol and University College London discovered a couple of years ago a connection between dirt and mental health. There is a microbe found in soil called Mycobacterium vaccae. This microbe stimulates the same neurons of your brain that produce serotonin. Serotonin is known to increase your level of general well being. So even if you don’t live close to a green space or you have allergies and this time of the year is difficult, chances are you can still get your hands dirty with an indoor plant.

While Toronto may not be one of the top ten park filled cities in the world, we do have a large number of parks to enjoy. From High Park, Edwards Gardens, Dufferin Grove, Allan Gardens, the Islands, Rogue Park, Guildwood, to Woodbine and Humber River, the city is full of places to get outside, enjoy nature and improve your health.

Here is a complete list of Toronto parks to enjoy.

Protect yourself (and others)

As a public health student, I have always been taught that child mortality rates in the past were really high due to lack of vaccines and understanding of deadly childhood diseases like measles, mumps and rubella. You may have heard it in the news that there is an ongoing measles outbreak in Ontario. It really becomes a challenge for public health units to control these cases if there are individuals who have never been exposed to this virus or do not have the vaccine.

Ever since the invention of first vaccine by Edward Jenner, vaccines have saved millions of lives. However, the anti-vaccine movement has been on the rise too. Their main argument is that vaccines may have more side-effects than benefits. I believe they are missing the real facts: vaccines work by introducing the soft version of the virus into your body, so antibodies can be created. When you are exposed to live virus, the virus will not be able to multiply as you will have the protection through antibodies. In some odd cases, you may get side effects but these will depend on the individual.
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One thing I learned is that by vaccinating you are not only protecting yourself but the people around you. Once you are protected through vaccine (whether it is influenza or measles vaccine), you are ensuring that you will NOT be the reason another person (friend, family, co-worker etc) will get the disease. That is the message public health is trying to spread. No one can force you to get the vaccine and you are responsible for making the right decision. Why should you be the reason someone else gets a communicable disease (easily spreadable)?

Over the last four years, I certainly have understood the importance of delivering clear health education messages through media campaigns. Often you just need someone to tell you to do the right thing. Using Health Communication strategies to clearly identify the key messages is important. Let’s use Ebola as an example. Currently, there is no approved vaccine for Ebola and thousands of people in Africa have been affected. The situation could have been even worse if there was no global public health response through World Health Organization.

To conclude, a disease such as measles cannot be wiped out unless each and every one from the community works together. If you know someone who is not vaccinated, talk to them and encourage them to get the vaccine. You are not only benefiting but others around you will also benefit from it.

What are we #BellLetsTalk-ing about?

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On January 28th, there were 122,150, 772 interactions for #BellLetsTalk.  #BellLetsTalk is an initiative by Bell to talk about mental health and work towards ending the stigma that surrounds it.  For every text, call and tweet with the hashtag #BellLetsTalk, Bell donated to mental health initiatives across Canada.  I’d like to move beyond looking at the amount Bell has donated and look at the awareness piece of the campaign.  What are we really talking about when we tweet #BellLetsTalk?

One of the first things I noticed on January 28th was which mental health issues were being discussed.  There were a lot of tweets about depression and reaching out for help if feeling suicidal.  Bell had many fact sheets and photos with statistics posted on Twitter.  The one I saw the most included information about anxiety, depression, OCD and eating disorders.  There was no mention of other mental health issues such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.  They were not only missing in Bell’s posters but what people were tweeting.  How can we have a discussion around mental health and reducing stigma without talking about bipolar and schizophrenia?

The second group of tweets that caught my eye were “tweet something that makes you happy”.  While not explicitly stated, it was implied that tweeting something that makes you happy would help depression.  This really shows a lack of understanding about what depression actually is; thinking of happy things doesn’t make depression go away, it’s not just being sad.  Within the discussion about depression, many people were tweeting to reach out if you need help and to talk about your mental health.  To me, this puts the onus of ending stigma on people who are living with mental health issues.  People reaching out won’t end stigma, we need to end stigma so people are able to talk and reach out.

Fortunately, I follow some people on Twitter who critically look at the issues of mental health and #BellLetsTalk.  They tweeted some great examples of the types of discussions we really need to have around mental health that go further than saying “if you’re depressed, reach out”.  They tweeted about black people being overrepresented in mental health statistics, lack of mental health services for children, PTSD experienced by veterans, the number of people who are homeless with mental health issues, how medical documents are used in sexual assault cases by the defence to prove the victim is “crazy”, and how mental health diagnosis and stigma are experienced differently depending on race, class, gender, sexual orientation and disability.  These are just a few examples of the critical conversations that were happening and need to continue to happen.

#BellLetsTalk will happen again next year.  I think we all need to not just show up, but actually be present and discuss what’s really happening in regards to mental health on #BellLetsTalk day and everyday.  Simply saying, “I know people have mental health issues and I’m here if you need me” is not enough.