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SPHERU celebrates 20 years of improving health of Saskatchewan’s people through research

By University Advancement and Communications Posted: December 11, 2020 8:00 a.m.

The Saskatchewan Population Health and Evaluation Research Unit (SPHERU) is celebrating 20 years of research that has helped to create policies and strategies to improve the health of Saskatchewan’s most disadvantaged populations. Photo taken pre-pandemic
The Saskatchewan Population Health and Evaluation Research Unit (SPHERU) is celebrating 20 years of research that has helped to create policies and strategies to improve the health of Saskatchewan’s most disadvantaged populations. Photo taken pre-pandemic Photo: SPHERU.ca

Saskatchewan has long been a national leader in health care, but has some of the worst discrepancies in wellbeing among its populations. For the past two decades, one research organization has worked to address these discrepancies and improve the overall health of Saskatchewan’s people.

Founded in 1999, the Saskatchewan Population Health and Evaluation Research Unit (SPHERU) is a collaborative research partnership between the University of Regina and University of Saskatchewan who, through their research projects, work with policy makers and communities to develop strategies to reduce health inequalities and improve overall wellness.

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Their new website, spheru20.ca,
showcases the history of the
unit and the impact of their projects.

To celebrate the unit’s 20th anniversary, SPHERU has launched a new website, spheru20.ca, to showcase its history, research projects, and impact the organization has had in bettering the health of our province’s disadvantaged populations.

Tom McIntosh, professor with the University of Regina’s Department of Politics and International Studies, has been involved with SPHERU for much of its history, joining in 2002 and becoming co-director in 2013. McIntosh credits the longevity of the unit to their critical role within the province’s research landscape.

“The people who had the original idea for the unit were right about the gap in knowledge that was identified,” says McIntosh. “We are still here because of the work that we have done.”

Research projects conducted through SPHERU fit into four different categories: Northern and Indigenous Health; Healthy Children; Rural Health; and, History of Health Inequalities. McIntosh notes that people living in larger cities may be unaware of the health challenges facing many of Saskatchewan’s rural populations, including access to medical services, prevalence of addiction, and preventable diseases, and how important the work of SPHERU is to addressing these issues.

“Our work has really opened my eyes to the challenges of maintaining healthy populations in rural parts of the country, especially here in the province,” says McIntosh. “This is where we have learned how to cultivate community-based partnerships to meet the health needs that communities themselves have identified.”

This vision has allowed SPHERU to take on projects specific to the needs of communities to help influence change at the government level and have measurable impact.

“Making sure our work stays in the communities that are our partners has always been more important to us than the journal article only our peers will read,” says McIntosh, “And I think that's also true of the way we've always tried to use our work to influence policy and policy makers in the province.”

Through their work, SPHERU has created the Community and Population Health Training Program, engaged with Indigenous and Northern communities, and are creating a comprehensive timeline of health challenges in the province to link to their political, economic, social, and demographic impact. Over the past two decades, researchers at the University of Regina and University of Saskatchewan, through SPHERU, has been able to bring in more than $23 million from provincial and national funding agencies and governments to conduct their research, and have taught, trained, and mentored hundreds of students who have conducted health and policy research provincially, nationally, and abroad.

“We have been able to improve the lives of people in the communities that we have been fortunate enough to work with,” says McIntosh.

On their 20th anniversary, McIntosh is proud to reflect on their history and despite challenges facing researchers, believes that SPHERU will continue building on its national reputation as a source of solid, innovative, and important research

“As long as we can be a home to people with an interest in creating healthier communities and helping those on the margins get heard then the unit will never lack for work to do,” says McIntosh. “We will maintain close ties to our past work, but continue to renew ourselves as we move into our next 20 years!”

Learn more about Saskatchewan Population Health and Evaluation Research Unit here.

Visit SPHERU’s 20th anniversary website here.