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From the principal: Risks to public health

From the principal: Risks to public health

[photo of Principal Woolf]

As this issue of the Review appears, we are marking the centenary of the conclusion of the First World War (commemorated on campus recently by projection of the names of all the 1918 war dead from all countries on to the outside of Grant Hall over a period of two months). But 2018 also marks the centenary of an event that was quite as deadly in its own way, the Spanish influenza epidemic that killed millions worldwide.

Public health has improved considerably over the century since that terrible outbreak, but it remains a major challenge globally, with threats such as Ebola and AIDS wreaking havoc and older diseases such as polio and tuberculosis, once thought eradicated, threatening to return. In Canada, we know of the problems faced by those below the poverty line, especially those living in remote Indigenous communities, where things most of us take for granted, such as proper drinking water and adequate waste removal, can still be out of reach. Even in cities, such events as the Walkerton tragedy of 2000 remind us that public health requires constant vigilance, consistent upgrades to aging infrastructure, and research. And, of course, mental illness has achieved prominence in recent years as a threat just as potent as physical disease, and one that can strike anyone regardless of their location or socio-economic status.

Queen’s is addressing a number of public health issues, from water research to cancer care to mental health. A particular challenge on all university campuses, especially residential ones such as Queen’s, is alcohol abuse. Queen’s is paying close attention to this, too. We have experienced injury and death in recent years stemming from alcohol abuse, and alumni will know that Homecoming, St. Patrick’s Day, and Orientation Week remain particular occasions of concern.

The Queen’s University Alumni Association and University Council, in advance of our most recent Homecoming weekend, put out a joint memo encouraging those returning to campus to set a good example to our students in this regard. University Council also struck a Special Purpose Committee whose report had many useful recommendations on the subject of alcohol, which the university administration is carefully considering. Queen’s is also part of a multi-university initiative intended to reduce the harms related to alcohol consumption on Canadian campuses. (Learn more.)

As of mid-October, we are also confronting the legalization of cannabis and considering whether a more rigorous smoking ban should be enacted on campus. (Learn more.)

We well know that environmental protection, along with food security and poverty, are among the most significant issues that our children will face in coming decades. Risks to public health are also on this worrisome list of global threats. Our alma mater is doing its bit.

[illustration for 'the public health' issue of the Queen's Alumni Review]