Dr James Orbinski — Humanitarianism, Citizenship and Global Health

The University of Toronto Alumni Association held their AGM the other day at Hart House with keynote speaker Dr. James Orbinski — President of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) — talking on Humanitarianism, Citizenship and Global Health.

Dr. James Orbinski is one of those human beings that makes the world a better place. He is an Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Toronto, a Fellow at the Munk Centre for International Studies, and co-founder and Chair of the Board of Directors of Dignitas International, a medical humanitarian organization performing life-saving work for communities overwhelmed by HIV/AIDS.

An Imperfect Offering

Orbinski was there in Rwanda during the genocide of nearly one million Tutsi. He described the landscape as a river of blood and opened with a story of a nine-year-old girl he had operated on. She told him how she had hidden in the latrine and watched as her parents were hacked to death by Hutus armed with machetes. As the blood flowed first from her father and then her mother, she had stifled her sobs, afraid of getting caught, and watched as they hacked off her mother’s arm and it fell into her father’s blood. So terrifying is this death to the Tutsi that parents paid to have their children lined up and shot — anything but hacked to death.

Orbinski described human suffering as the great equalizer, that by sharing her story this little girl had brought them both to the same level of awareness. By speaking out and raising awareness, people start to listen and that is the first act of doing, the first step towards change. One such change is the establishment of an International Criminal Court on July 1, 2002 that persecutes people guilty of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

In just 15 years, Orbinski has worked to bring greater access to life-saving medicine and treatment for HIV/AIDS sufferers in Africa at a fraction of the cost. In his latest book, An Imperfect Offering, Orbinski cautions that global health is changing as fast as the global climate and disease is no longer contained to one country. Leaders need to be more mindful of this looming situation. If the G20 can spend $13 trillion of public money to underwrite a domestic failure, then they can help 950 million starving, suffering people in other parts of the world. Humanitarianism in the 21st century needs leaders without borders.


Working on a campaign where I get to say “balls” several times a day even in front of the boss

I started off the week talking about scrotum, so it only seemed apropos to end the week with a matching book end. Yes, I’m still talking balls.

This PSA from Ontario’s Ministry of Long-Term Health Care was my first major social media campaign. I dabbled in the sphere when I worked at Saint Elizabeth Health Care, but not like this. With this campaign, I had my fingers in there every day and was involved in all aspects.

One of the winning aspects of this campaign was the MOHLTC’s open-mindedness. Bear in mind, this is a PSA for a catch-up mumps vaccination – pretty dry stuff – and from what we know about PSAs (zzzzzzzz) – they’re boring and preachy. Here, there’s comedy, sports and naughtiness — “Evil balls…why am I looking at your balls?” The overall reaction from most viewers was amazement that this was a government PSA.

It was exciting to see the campaign grow from a Facebook group to a YouTube sensation. Hits grew to 65,000 in a few short months and won a spot on the Huffington Post’s Top Weird PSAs list. Every week, I would gather the insights from YouTube and Facebook, with merriment. I never realized before how much people love to say “balls” —

  • Ontario: Land of insane balls
  • I can smell your balls from here
  • Ballz of steel

This is just a sampling of what I would report to the client — oh my! How do you rate such comments? Are they positive? neutral? The fact of the matter is, things like this get noticed and that’s how the buzz starts.

This campaign is now over, but it was an introduction I will never forget.

I ended up here — I don’t know why

Once again the contagious nature of blogging proves its worth and I am reminded of why I blog.

I received a comment from April from Health Information Planet on my last post Social Media and Health Care, who stumbled upon my blog by accident. She said, “I ended up here while searching the net. Why? Beats me. Ask the search engine. But anyhow it was a nice surprise. I enjoyed discovering your blog. Thx for the nice read!”

So, I checked out the link, as you do when someone pays their respects, and I discovered an orb of information. Health Information Planet is just that — a plethora of advice on everything from anxiety to yoga.

I browsed the site and linked onto another site, which resulted in the discovery of Megalis and a funny skit about health insurance.  This video evokes the ecstasy and euphoria that comes from having health insurance in a country like America, where the cost of medical care is through the roof.

After watching this video, I wanted to see more. So, I paid a visit to YouTube and found funnier and funnier videos, about 71 in total. Megalis is an accomplished animator who suffers from anxiety and likes to make fun of his parents and being Greek. Megalis also blogs at megalis.blogspot.com and you can find other juicy animation treats at megalisTV.

That’s the beauty of being connected. Not only do I know where to go to get advice about health, but I found someone to make me laugh. And laughter is the best medicine.

Social Media and Health Care

In the latter part of June I got to work with an amazing individual, Nicole Beben, who heads up the Care to Know Centre at Saint Elizabeth Health Care, a Canadian not-for-profit, charitable home and community-based health care organization. She and I worked together on a social media piece introducing the Care to Know Centre that is now posted online, on the open forum First Canadian Health Care Conference website until the end of July.

The Care to Know Centre is a knowledge institute with a mission to improving health care through knowledge networks and social innovation. In other words, innovators can approach the Care to Know Centre with an initiative designed to foster change in the home and community-based health-care sector and apply for a grant to effect that change.

One of the other ways the centre will contribute to the improvement of the in-home health-care system is through social networking. The centre will act as a knowledge broker that will share information and best practices throughout the health-care system, working together to foster change.

Instead of telling you what it’s all about, here’s the presentation in full:

The Care to Know Centre – improving health care through knowledge networks and social innovation.

What would happen if a not-for-profit health-care organization invested in projects designed to foster change?

An aging population, rising health-care costs and evolving technologies are driving the demand for quality and sustainable home care. In 2002, the Romanow report identified home care as the “next essential service” and a way to support sustainability and improve the quality and care of people who would otherwise be hospitalized. This sentiment was echoed in the First Ministers’ Health Accord in 2004, with targeted funding for short-term home care that covers only two weeks of care. Recognizing that something more needed to be done, the Public Policy Forum hosted a national roundtable of 150 home-care stakeholders in 2007, who agreed to work together to promote awareness of this issue. It is now five years since the 10-year Health Accord and three to four per cent of seniors are not receiving the home-care services they need to stay well and healthy; one in four Canadians are caring for loved ones; 22 per cent of those caregivers miss months of work; and 41 per cent use personal savings, as reported in the Health Care Council’s survey Fixing the Foundation: An Update on Primary Health Care and Home Care Renewal in Canada.

This survey reflects a growing trend toward increased transparency and accountability and represents the kind of research needed for dramatic and dynamic change. With a focus on social networking, social innovation and a collective agreement among health professionals to collaborate and share what they know, an exchange and transfer of knowledge can happen and effective change will result. The new Care to Know Centre (CTKC), a knowledge institute, embraces this idea and defines itself as a knowledge broker connecting consumers, researchers, decision-makers, health-care professionals, and supportive and unregulated care providers for the purpose of implementing evidence-based best practices in the home-care health sector.

The Care to Know Centre will act as a catalyst for significant change through the generation and exchange of evidence-based decision-making to improve home and community-based health care for Canadians. It strives to fill the gaps within existing knowledge and works to develop new models for home-care research and practice, by incorporating evidence into managerial and clinical decision-making for system, organizational and individual health improvements. It will effectively include the health-care consumer into the research and knowledge exchange process, while increasing opportunities and creating forums for home and community health-care knowledge-sharing. It will advocate for improvements to and funding for the home and community health-care system and work to reduce the lengthy process of knowledge generation and exchange to ensure evidence is up to date and timely.

Through its signature Imagine Grants program, the CTKC will direct funding towards organizations conducting applied research that investigate key aspects of the consumer health-care experience. Projects may range from improving specific health and supportive home-based care to a better understanding of the instantaneous and transformative nature of technology. The CTKC will focus on three key areas: health promotion and wellness support; health innovation and technology; and informal, unregulated and personal supportive caregivers. Scholarship opportunities are also available to graduate students whose studies focus on home and community care.

CTKC’s Executive Director, Nicole Beben says, “It is critical and socially responsible to build strong, mutually valuable partnerships, by using the best talent and resources from each organization to mobilize and impact the social issue at hand. The evolution from social investment to social innovation is upon us. By connecting values to value, the CTKC’s creation process aligns the operating mandate of home and community care directly with social innovation to effectively and universally partner, empower and create solutions to issues that have value to the health care system as a whole.”

The mission of the CTKC is to act as a knowledge broker to create effective linkages and exchanges for knowledge generation and provide a meaningful context to the vast amount of health-care and systems information available to consumers. We are recently reminded of a bold move by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where administration and faculty have made available the majority of its lectures and course notes to the world via the internet over a 10-year period through a new program called MIT OpenCourseWare. The rationale is simple, facts are facts. In and of themselves facts are not as valuable, purposeful or useful as information and knowledge that has been explained and given context. It is this rationale that motivates and drives the CTKC to provide access to information and knowledge that will be of value to researchers, advocates and consumers, while seeking unique ways to translate the evidence and put it in a context that provides insight and direction for immediate action and future investment. This is where stakeholder partnerships within and outside of the home and community health-care sector will be critical. To provide various viewpoints and streams of investigation, we will rely on input and engagement from the usual and unusual suspects, who can add valued context to the issues we seek to impact.

We encourage you to contact us via our website at www.care2know.ca this fall with research questions, projects, ideas for programs and general questions to guide our efforts and make them meaningful. In an open source world of push/pull strategies, knowledge translation and exchange, we are counting on participation from active minds, who know that health care happens within hospital walls and behind the front doors of homes in your neighbourhood.