Symposium surveys the global health care arena


The frequency of miracle medical breakthroughs continues to increase.

New discoveries are no longer rare with a heightened understanding of the basis of diseases. But an understanding of the social and cultural issues, many of which dictate the pace of progress throughout the world health care scene, is much more uncommon.

According to Richard Horton, editor of the British medical journal The Lancet, our medical and journalistic communities must strive to examine such elements more often. Horton was the keynote speaker at a mini-symposium on “When Do Social Issues Become Medically Important Issues?” presented by the Department of Clinical Epidemiology & Biostatistics on Feb. 24.

Horton has seen the atrocities of the former Yugoslavia firsthand. Today, only rubble remains from what were once schools, government buildings, and hospitals. “While this is a conventional war story of damage and destruction and the rebuilding that follows, there is much more involved,” said Horton.

What was ignored by most conventional media actually represented the heart of struggle. Political disagreements and manoeuvering resulted in 90 civilian deaths during a 78-day NATO bombing mission. Such deaths were well documented in a report by the World Health Organization, including identifiable problems and initiatives they called “Peace Through Health.”

According to Horton, such documents need to be better publicized both within the medical community and among the public. “Journals have a role in promoting this (links between human rights and health care) by legitimating it,” he said.

He spoke of a newly created Croatian medical journal which tries to bridge the area's fierce political turmoil by publishing research by Serbians, Muslims and Croatians. Such endeavours prove that the efforts of the health care field can extend throughout society.

McMaster cardiologist Salim Yusuf hosted the event while Brian Haynes, chair of clinical epidemiology & biostatistics, made closing remarks.

A trio of McMaster researchers also made presentations: Harriet MacMillan, professor in the departments of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences, and pediatrics, spoke on violence in childhood; Graeme MacQueen, McMaster Centre for Peace Studies, discussed building peace though health initiatives; and Sonia Anand, assistant professor of medicine, talked about ethnicity as a classification variable in research.