SEPH researcher seeks equity for disadvantaged communities amid COVID-19 outbreak

Posted on Friday, March 6, 2020

A graphic of a coronavirus

CIHR awards Dr. Ronald Labonté and team $499,304 to investigate how to improve international health governance to control the highly contagious disease.

By Michelle Read
Staff writer

Professor Ronald Labonté of the School of Epidemiology and Public Health has been awarded $499,304 to lead research into the global management of COVID-19.

Dr. Labonté’s project, titled “Towards Better Governance of Zoonotic Disease Risk: One Health Principles in the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Response,” involves monitoring the international application of ‘One Health’—an approach in which multiple sectors communicate and work together to achieve better public health outcomes.

There has been a growing awareness of the importance of the One Health approach since the SARS outbreak of 2002/3, which showed that “significant governance challenges” could hinder the response to emerging infectious threats, Dr. Labonté’s team noted.

Dr. Labonté was one of five uOttawa researchers who received grants as part of the Government of Canada’s $26.8 million in rapid-response COVID-19 funding, announced March 6. Other recipients included the Faculty of Medicine’s Drs. Marc-André Langlois and Kumanan Wilson; Dr. Maxim Berezovski of the Department of Chemistry and Biomolecular Sciences; and Dr. Patrick Fafard of the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.

COVID-19, a novel strain in the coronavirus family, poses a threat to the global population with the speed and ease with which it spreads among humans. As of March 3, the World Health Organization had reported over 3,000 deaths and more than 90,000 confirmed cases globally. On January 30, it declared the outbreak a public health emergency.

Dr. Labonté’s team of researchers will use rapid data gathering and analysis methods to identify areas requiring attention regarding to the management of infectious disease.

The team can then make recommendations on improving infectious disease preparedness and response. Public health bodies will ultimately be able protect their populations by making evidence-based decisions that mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Building on the recently CIHR-funded ‘Global One Health Network’ co-led by Dr. Labonté (, the project comprises four groups of studies, carried out by partner organizations, which feed into the overall goals of the project. The uOttawa team will focus on “Ensuring Equity in the COVID-19 Policy Response,” with Dr. Labonté at the helm.

Recent commentary in The Lancet suggests that “COVID-19 is impacting people differently depending on their socio-economic circumstances,” and that there is “evidence of its potential to exacerbate latent racism.”

Studying the application of One Health principles has the potential, says Labonté, of “aligning the ongoing needs of disadvantaged communities with the concerns of the broader global community,” and fostering an “equitable approach to global health security.”

“Globally, are people with greatest need getting the necessary recourses?” asks Labonté. “As the disease affects global supply chains, are affected workers getting proper support or compensation for job losses? Are governments accounting for the care burden on families, especially women, as schools temporarily close, or people self-quarantine?” The equity dimensions of such an outbreak are enormous, Labonté says.

Although the project’s findings will be immediately applicable to the current outbreak of COVID-19, they will also be applicable to future outbreaks of infectious diseases, allowing countries to develop response infrastructure and policies to help protect their populations.

Read an article in The Conversation by Arne Ruckert, University of Ottawa; Hélène Carabin, Université de Montréal; Ronald Labonté, University of Ottawa: Coronavirus: Fear of a pandemic, or a pandemic of fear?


Watch Dr. Ronald Labonté's webinar, Global Health in Times of Pandemics, in which he:

  • briefly defines the impact of COVID19 on the Social determinants of Health
  • describes the approach of One Health principles in the COVID-19 response
  • identifies how the global community can foster an equitable approach to the pandemic


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Photo of Dr. Ronald Labonté

Dr. Ronald Labonté


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