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(July 25, 2002, Gazette)

Resource depletion and health

Photo by HSIMS
Members of the advisory committee for the Natural Resource Depletion and Health project met in St. John’s recently. Back (L-R) Cliff Dornig, Cape Breton, Frederick Framp, Arnold’s Cove, Don Holloway, Marystown, Derek Curtis, Trepassey. Sitting (L-R) Eliza Swyers, Bonavista and Dr. Lan Gien, School of Nursing. Unavailable for photo are Anne Godwin, Fogo Island, and Eleanor Swanson, Department of Health and Social Services.

The School of Nursing is undertaking research that is close to home. The Natural Resource Depletion and Health project will look at how the health of people in coastal communities in Newfoundland has been affected by the termination of TAGS. The project will also look at the health issues of communities in Cape Breton where the coalmines have closed, not due to resource depletion, but to decreased global demand for coal.

Principal investigator Dr. Lan Gien said the project will compare the health indicators of selected areas in Newfoundland and Cape Breton whose single industry/economy depended heavily on natural resources – fishing and mining.

“There are many variables that affect health and the community’s ability to cope with adversity,” she said. “We want to look at how individuals and communities cope, see by what measures they address their difficulties and in general learn what factors promote community resiliency, the ability to bounce back from adversity.”

Communities in the study are Fogo Island, Trepassey, the headlands of Bonavista, and the isthmus of Avalon. In Cape Breton, New Waterford will be the study community. The project also has international dimensions — investigators include Dr. Maritta Valimaki, Tampere Universities in Finland and Dr. Dang Phuong Kiet, Vietnam. In Canada, besides Dr. Gien, the project’s interdisciplinary team includes co-principal investigator, Dr. Maureen Laryea, Nursing, Dr. Carole Orchard, Nursing, Dr. Michael Murray, Community Health, Dr. Albert Kozma, Psychology, Dr. William Kennedy, Education, Neil Tilley and Dr. David Macdonald of the Community Development Co-operative Society Ltd, and in Nova Scotia, Stacey Lewis of the Cape Breton Wellness Centre.

“This isn't just an academic exercise — we want to understand the situations that communities encounter and play a part in changing those situations,” said Dr. Gien. “Members of the community will be involved in facilitating the data collection process and will suggest way to return the knowledge that will be gained from the project to the communities from which it came. Through a series of forums and community meetings we'll try, along with the communities, to analyze the situations that they face and to devise strategies better to cope with adversity. “

About 1,500 interviews will be conducted in the five locations. “The interviews concern health matters, which naturally many people consider very personal, but the process is designed to protect confidentiality,” said Dr. Gien.

The Natural Resource Depletion and Health project is being funded over three years for $673,700 by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. For further information on this project, visit