A prospective transdisciplinary study of the impact of housing improvements on health: promoting global health equity through innovation and collaboration

Under the leadership of Dr. Jerry Spiegel, BC health researchers are playing an active role in addressing global health research priorities – issues that increasingly affect British Columbians as global citizens as well as individuals subject to increasingly global pressures. With a interdisciplinary team of researchers at the University of British Columbia, linked to colleagues at the universities of Victoria, Simon Fraser, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, with counterparts from Mexico, Cuba and other Latin American countries, Dr. Spiegel has developed a program of research which aims to improve world understanding of “upstream factors”, i.e. pathways whereby global forces affect health. For example, rapid urbanization is a growing global phenomenon that underscores the ongoing need for attention to the basic need for appropriate shelter. While there is a clear relationship between poor housing and poor health, little research has been done not only on the reasons behind rapid urbanization and deteriorating housing, but on the health gains that result from housing improvements. In a unique collaboration with world-class specialists in housing and health research, Dr. Jerry Spiegel is investigating the impact of housing on health. Dr. Spiegel and a multi-national, multi-disciplinary team are studying two groups in Cuba: one living in poor housing conditions that will receive state funded improvements to address hygiene, ventilation, illumination and overcrowding; and another group living in comparably poor housing that is not receiving improvements. The team is using a variety of methods — including ethnographic studies, surveys, environmental monitoring of homes and measurement of biological factors associated with health — to measure the effects of housing on health. Results from the study could be used to develop policies that will improve the health of vulnerable populations in Canada and throughout the Americas. Other international studies being conducted by Dr. Spiegel and his team address other social and ecosystem determinants of health, needed to provide valuable information to promote health in British Columbia and worldwide.