On Wednesday, October 21, the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union held a seminar with Dr. Leanne De Souza-Kenney on Inequity and Discrimination in Healthcare. Dr. De Souza-Kenney’s workshop is the latest installment in UTMSU’s monthly seminar series. This month’s seminars have focused on sustainability and encouraging indigenous voices.

Dr. De Souza-Kenney was newly appointed to University College’s Health Studies program as an Assistant Professor this past August. Her research focuses on the socioeconomic disparities in healthcare in regards to race, gender, and other factors. Her latest research project looked at the discrepancy in diabetes rates between non-obese Vietnamese Americans and other ethnic groups.

The seminar followed the arch of Charles Dickens’ novel, A Tale Of Two Cities, to illustrate the inequities and disparities across Canadian Healthcare. Dr. De Souza Kenney highlighted the different healthcare experiences between residents of certain cities. She compared their access to resources with the opportunities available to marginalized groups in society, such as Black communities, Indigenous people, POC, women, and people with disabilities. 

Dr. De Souza-Kenney’s workshop also discussed the duality in healthcare access, disease rates, fitness, and other well-being aspects. However, her presentation also encouraged change. There is room for a revolution in the sector so that everyone is able to experience fair healthcare service in their communities.

In an email correspondence with The Medium, Dr. De Souza-Kenney discussed the objectives behind her seminar. 

“The audience should be able to walk away with the understanding that discrimination is rooted in health inequity and access, and the solution lies here as well—in achieving true health equity and removing entrenched, structural barriers to health access,” said Dr. De Souza-Kenney 

In order to communicate this message, the workshop utilized fictional models in addition to real cases.

“The audience is provided with authentic examples of research evidence to support these notions and relevant, realistic examples of the slow turn of the tide toward change,” continued Dr. De Souza-Kenney. “In Dickens’ story, A Tale of Two Cities, he begins famously with the line: ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,’ and my talk draws parallels on the pertinence of this statement today—with a revolution before us to fight discrimination at its roots.”

The topic of healthcare equity is part of the UTMSU’s United for Equity campaign, which strives to shed light on all forms of oppression and discrimination, on-campus and in the broader community.

The Covid-19 pandemic has shed a light on prevailing issues of inequity and disadvantaged communities’ unequal access to health care services and resources. While these problems have become increasingly commonplace, sudden outbreaks, such as the novel coronavirus, further accentuates the unfortunate circumstances marginalized groups face. 

However, as perspectives begin to change and more organizations and governments lead equity efforts, action is being taken to tackle these issues amid the unprecedented crisis. 

Within the U of T community, many new initiatives and projects have been established in the past year to bring awareness to social inequity. The university is also funding increased time and effort into researching related issues.

“In the clinical setting, there is a growing emphasis for documenting and paying attention to ethnicity, country of birth, number of years in host country (immigration year), to consider the impact of these extremely relevant factors to health status,” stated Dr. De Souza-Kenney.

The collection of this data will work to create a detailed and definitive report illustrating healthcare inequity and its impacts in communities.

“In public health research, funding bodies, research programs, and institutional ethics committees are calling for similar details to be collected for and factored into research and analyses,” she continued.

As an immigrant, woman of colour, mother, and female scientist, Dr. De Souza-Kenney is passionate about using her expertise to speak out about the healthcare situation in Canada. “With the privilege to teach in a prestigious academic institution, I believe it is my responsibility—that I undertake with pride, empathy, compassion and sincere commitment for actionable change—to guide my students through practice and to hold space for learning and understanding the way forward.”

She went on to emphasize the importance of case studies when analyzing inequalities in healthcare.

“I believe that true knowledge in any given discipline, especially health-related disciplines, must uphold and intentionally discuss examples, and create assessments with problem-solving [questions] related to race, ethnicity, gender, colonialism, and inequity in health,” she stated.

Dr. De Souza-Kenney currently works in chronic disease prevention, maternal and child health, epidemiology, and public and global health. “Change is coming, but we must remain steadfast in our commitment to follow through, to play the long game—systemic change requires a systemic response and approach.”

The UTMSU monthly seminar series is available for free by registering for the session. Check UTMSU’s website or social media platforms to see upcoming seminars surrounding community sustainability.

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