The Missing Link: Absence of Contextual Awareness in South Asian Social Protection Program Design

Warda Javed & Zubia Mumtaz, School of Public Health, University of Alberta

Social protection programs have been introduced as a silver-bullet approach to address the incongruity between South Asia’s economic growth and extreme poverty. However, the resources systematically fail to reach the poorest of the poor. We conducted a review of the literature to identify the determinants behind this targeting inequity. We identified that locally recognized accessibility barriers were overlooked in the structurally flawed program designs which were instead rooted in simplistic cause-and-effect approaches. This included disregard of the poor’s deficiency of physical, financial, and social capital, each of which were directly or indirectly dependent on their contracts with elite. Socially designated elite were also capable of simultaneously capturing program resources and dictating the poor’s accessibility. Our analysis revealed that the operationalization of social protection failed when programs neglected to address these multidimensional constructs subjugating their ‘ideal’ beneficiaries. We propose that this programmatic weakness reproduces historically exclusionary systems as social protection was paradoxically disaffiliated with the poor and rather based on the perceptions of the elite.

Within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, South Asia’s social protection programs must be well-designed and sustainable strategies that can effectively reach the destitute. It is thus imperative to overhaul the current top-down approach for one that is contextually aware, recognizing the local social order and the myriad of privations experienced by those with the greatest need: the poor.

Warda Javed holds a BSc (Hons) in Physiology from the University of Alberta and is currently pursuing an MSc in Global Health at the School of Public Health. She is committed to equity-focused research that evaluates poverty alleviation programs within a South Asian context. She has completed the Canadian Association of Global Health mentorship program and is currently co-lead on a storybook initiative highlighting student resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Defining the Impact of COVID-19 on Francophone Families in the Canadian Prairies and their Post-Pandemic Needs

Catelyn Keough, E. Proulx-Cullen, R. Elmellouki,  A. Noomani, D. de Moissac,  K Marshak, A. Leis, S. Gnidehou, Campus Saint-Jean, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada. Department of Health Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, University of Saskatchewan.  Department of Physiology, University of Saint-Boniface, Manitoba. Department of Community Health and Epidemiology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Saskatchewan. Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Alberta. School of Public Health, University of Alberta.

Important knowledge gaps exist in the understanding of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic among Francophone communities (FC) living in majority Anglophone contexts in Canada. The aim of this study was to evaluate the perceived impact of the pandemic and post-pandemic needs of FC in the Canadian Prairies. In 2022, World Cafés (a form of group discussions) were conducted to examine the personal experiences of FC related to the pandemic and to identify actions to respond to families’ needs. In total, 44 Francophone families with children participated across three provinces (Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba). Qualitative thematic analysis was used to identify similarities and differences between provinces.

Participants were recruited through Francophone Community Associations, Francophone Health Networks and social media. Participants were immigrant and non-immigrant families with children aged under 19; age groups of children were relatively equal. In the three provinces, FC were similarly affected in terms of mental health, education, social interaction, economy and employment, and domestic life. However, only families from Alberta identified lack of exercise and proper eating habits as a notable impact of the pandemic, whereas Saskatchewan families reported delays in language development among preschool-aged children. Interestingly, all provinces identified a predominant need for mental health support, more community activities, and better access to health information in French. This study highlights the disparities and challenges faced throughout the pandemic by the FC in language minority settings in the Canadian Prairies. It identifies targeted actions to improve healthcare access and overall quality of life for these populations.

Catelyn Keough is a second year undergraduate student completing her Bachelor of Biological Sciences at the University of Alberta - Campus Saint-Jean. She currently works as a research assistant on a public health project evaluating the personal experiences of the pandemic among Francophone communities, and hopes to pursue her studies in medicine.

The Impact of the Pandemic on Mental Health

Fernanda Talarico

The COVID-19 pandemic may give rise to a longer-term mental health crisis because of its direct impact, or secondary to health policies - including social distancing mandates intended to reduce the transmission of the virus in local time. These policies disrupted daily routines among children and youth and limited their contact with peer support groups. This may have impaired the optimal social, psychological, and academic development of the children and youth population and negatively impacted their mental health. We conducted a retrospective, observational cohort study of administrative health records, including physician’s office/clinic visits, emergency department visits, and hospitalization of all children (six to 11 years old), adolescents (12 to 17 years old), and young adults (18 to 34 years old) living in Alberta, Canada covered by provincial Alberta Health insurance benefits to all residents. Our results indicated that, during the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a significant reduction in non-mental health-related visits to hospitals and community clinics compared to pre-pandemic years. By contrast, the overall proportion of individuals seeking professional mental health care increased during this period. Adolescents were especially impacted, with unexpected increases in mental health service utilization during 2020 and 2021. The increase was notable for anxiety and mood disorders, but less prominent for substance use disorders and other mental health conditions. In conclusion, this population-level analysis of health services utilization showed a considerable increase in the number of adolescents utilizing mental health services, which may be related to poorer mental health in youth since the pandemic.