Tyrone Burke, July 15, 2020

Carleton University Rapid Response Research Grants: International and Indigenous Communities

The COVID-19 pandemic has created new challenges and emphasized the urgency of grappling with social issues like inequality. The complexity of this crisis demands the mobilization of experts in many disciplines, and the academic community has answered the call. In April 2020, Carleton launched the Rapid Response Research Grants program to help build our understanding of COVID-19 and the ways in which the pandemic is impacting our lives. This funding initiative is providing $250,000 to 59 research projects being undertaken by researchers from all five of Carleton’s line faculties: Arts and Social Sciences, Engineering and Design, Public Affairs, Science, and the Sprott School of Business. This is the fourth of five stories covering these projects.

COVID-19 Research: International and Indigenous Communities

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed inequality, accentuating both precarity and privilege globally. Yet in Canada, we do not have a complete picture of who has been impacted the most. Several months into the pandemic, we had not even begun to collect race-based data on COVID-19 infections and deaths. We overestimated how many Canadians have access to the internet, and even as the virus was tearing through our country’s elder care homes, we did not have a comprehensive list of where these homes were, exactly how many of them there were.

Dr. Tracey Lauriault of the School of Journalism and Communication is seeking to identify some of these critical gaps in knowledge by assessing data shortfalls, identifying standards, and supporting new data infrastructure. The project will train students, develop a network of experts, and disseminate its findings through open access blog posts, infographics, policy briefs, and scholarly publications.

On a more local level, Dr. Jennifer Ridgley of the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies is examining how pandemic management has played out in Ottawa. In the hope of informing equitable public health measures in the future, Ridgley is examining how the city has regulated its public spaces in the name of public health — and how marginalized communities have been affected by local efforts to control the spread of the disease.

Indigenous peoples, communities and organizations have demonstrated resilience and adaptability in responding to past pandemics. In addition to addressing the public health issues associated with COVID-19, Indigenous peoples, communities and organizations must also consider the pandemic’s implications for economic development activities on their territories. Indigenous entrepreneurs and community economic development businesses may lack the working capital to navigate a prolonged economic shutdown, and the failure of these may have a lasting negative impact on community socioeconomic health and well-being. Dr. Rick Colbourne of the Sprott School of Business is working with Indigenous economic development officers and entrepreneurs to co-generate knowledge about the disruptive threat that the pandemic poses to their economic ventures. The research seeks to stimulate dialogue and innovation that helps address the unique challenges faced by Indigenous communities through implementing resilience strategies to navigate through the COVID-19 crisis.

Slow internet speed in rural areas is among the limiting factors that many Indigenous-led businesses face, and other remote communities face that challenge too. As networks are strained by higher use, shaky rural broadband is not always up to the task. But that isn’t only a problem for businesses. Internet-based health care — eHealth — has the promise to improve health care in rural and remote locations, but as the pandemic spread, it became clear that there were still barriers to its implementation. Even as clinics in Canada’s cities made eHealth appointments standard practice, its implementation in rural areas lagged behind. Dr. Paul Peters of the Department of Health Sciences is engaging with rural physicians, communities, and researchers to identify the issues that are preventing eHealth scale-up in rural areas, and will recommend a framework that addresses these gaps, so that the technology’s full potential can be realized.

Inequalities exist everywhere, and where data is available, it indicates that in western countries, marginalized communities have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. Germany and Vietnam both recorded their first known cases of COVID-19 in late January 2020. Five months after the first COVID-19 cases were recorded in these two countries, nearly 200,000 Germans had tested positive for the coronavirus, and more than 8,800 had died. Vietnam, on the other hand, had successfully suppressed its COVID-19 outbreak through aggressive public health measures — and even an earworm hand-washing PSA so catchy that became a TikTok challenge. In spite of Vietnam’s larger population and higher population density, the virus did not spread far. The country has recorded just a few hundred cases and zero deaths in the same time frame. Similarly, for every person who has died of the virus in Kenya, nearly 90 Canadians have perished.

Yet despite achieving some notable successes in suppressing the spread of COVID-19, countries in the global south are often less able to weather the challenges that come with aggressive public health measures. Universities around the world are moving their courses online, but access to the necessary technology is shaped by factors that include gender, racialization, socio-economic status, and whether students live in rural or urban areas. Professor Doris Buss of the School of Law and Legal Studies and Professor Blair Rutherford of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology are working with their colleagues in Africa to study how these inequalities intersect and limit access to technological tools at three universities: Carleton University, the University of Sierra Leone, and the University of Nairobi in Kenya.

Dr. David Hornsby of the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs is also conducting a comparative study of educational practices at universities in Ottawa and South Africa. He’s investigating whether online learning will prevent instructors from implementing evidence-based pedagogical approaches, and if that will exacerbate students’ existing struggles, lowering graduation rates in the process.

In much of the world, informal labour plays a crucial role in the local economy. It is inherently precarious, and sex workers can be especially vulnerable. Dr. Megan Rivers-Moore of the Pauline Jewett Institute of Women and Gender Studies is examining how the pandemic has impacted sex workers in Latin America. Prior to the pandemic, efforts to practice mutual aid were in place. Rivers-Moore is exploring how the shock of the crisis has shifted these practices, and whether these changes hold lessons for informal labourers elsewhere.

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