SEATTLE, Washington — The coronavirus pandemic has shown a spotlight on public health issues and the importance of investing in public health research. Public Health Insight is a Canadian-based organization devoted to “modernizing the public health.” Through knowledge translation and communication of public health principles using a podcast, videos, social media and more, PHI seeks to inspire community action and bridge the gap between public health research and the average person. Recently, The Borgen Project conducted an interview with Gordon Thane, one of the co-founders of PHI, to learn more about the work it is doing to “make public health viral.”
Public Health Insight
A group of graduate students at Western University in London, Ontario founded Public Health Insight. After graduating in 2019 with a master’s in public health, Thane and his co-founders noticed a gap between public health research and its time of implementation. In an effort to make research findings more accessible to those who will benefit most from them, they launched PHI. Now, the focus is on creating content that analyzes and disseminates public health research in clear and digestible ways. As Thane explains, PHI hopes to empower people to be more involved in public health dialogue by “breaking down the silos of knowledge” to show that public health interacts with so much of everyday life.
PHI is committed to amplifying a diverse set of voices within the public health space. To do so, its podcast series features weekly conversations with guest experts on everything from food insecurity and climate change to social inequities and the COVID-19 pandemic. Reaching audiences in 90 countries, the podcast was recently ranked seventh on Feedspot’s “Top 20 Public Health Podcasts You Must Follow in 2020.”
Thane commented that podcasts are a far easier medium to follow than “a one-hundred-page research paper that is not easily digestible.” Podcasts allow PHI to be at the forefront of public health discourse. In a time where misinformation seems to frequently go viral, Thane believes that PHI’s podcast can help drown out the myths. “Why shouldn’t public health go viral if it is presented in an interactive and meaningful way?”
Thane also noted that “Early on [in PHI’s journey], we recognized that we are five men. We all have our own unique view but acknowledge that PHI is missing voices. We want to make others’ voices heard who may not have access to a podcast platform; for example,” but who have important perspectives and expertise within public health. PHI is thus working to center perspectives from underrepresented minorities whose voices must be amplified. While new episodes are released each week, Thane is quick to note that it is still not enough. He underscores that PHI is committed to a constant pursuit of making diverse narratives more mainstream in public health.
The Community Stars Initiative
PHI is bringing new voices into the public health space through its Community Stars initiative as well. This recognition system highlights “people doing great work in public and global health across the world,” says Thane. “Especially during COVID, a lot of praise and recognition goes towards healthcare workers, and rightly so. But, there has been less recognition to those in public health who are more hands-off in administrative or research-based roles but are still vitally important” to containing the pandemic.
PHI wanted to provide a platform for these behind-the-scenes workers. Thane also noted that the paradox of public health is that people aren’t usually made aware of public health successes. Because of this, public health and its heroes often lack visibility. With PHI Community Stars, Thane says the program is able to “highlight public health when it’s going well.”
Advocating for World Health
Advocating for the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals is another aspect of PHI’s work, particularly Goal 1 of ending poverty and Goal 3 of good health and well being for all. PHI’s advocacy work has centered around neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). It has partnered with the Canadian Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases, a multifaceted and diverse coalition working to mobilize Canadian political action to end NTDs. Thane explained that NTDs disproportionately harm those living in poverty. Therefore, addressing NTDs not only improves overall global health but works to eliminate inequities in public health.
The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the vital importance of public health communication. With so much uncertainty, particularly at the beginning of the pandemic, clearer communication could have curbed the spread early on. Thane sees an opportunity for PHI to grow in a post-pandemic world. Its goal is to reach more people by diversifying “the ways in which public health communicates with the general population.” This will prevent future public health crises of this magnitude, according to Thane. He believes communication is key.
This year has brought renewed attention to issues of anti-blackness and dramatic racial disparities. Public health is full of racial inequities. So, PHI is involved with a project that demands improved accountability in Canada. Along with a variety of stakeholders from the law, healthcare and public health sectors, PHI has written a report to the provincial and federal governments with specific calls to action to address institutional racism across numerous sectors. At PHI, Thane notes that “there is always room for awareness-raising efforts.” But, awareness alone will not change things. People also need to take action. PHI wants “to be involved with this dialogue to action transition.”
To learn more about PHI, visit the website. Its weekly podcast, the Public Health Insight Podcast, is available to stream from all podcasts streaming platforms.
– Samantha Friborg