Once believed to be almost eliminated as a public health risk, infectious diseases remain a leading cause of death worldwide. In Canada, there are many professors and scientists, research centres and institutions committed to improving the health of Canadians in particular and people in general through the support of research and dissemination of knowledge pertaining to the field.
Words Rémi Dévé
Ranging from childhood ear infections and measles to flesh eating diseases and sexually transmitted illnesses, infectious diseases affect us all. Over 18 million people died from the influenza pandemic of 1918 and more than 20 million people have already died from AIDS since its outbreak. The World Health Organization reports that at least 30 new diseases have been scientifically recognized around the world in the last 20 years. Diseases such as SARS, Ebola, and cryptosporidiosis are emerging without warning – and some without cures. At the same time, diseases considered to be part of our past such as tuberculosis, cholera, and diphtheria are making a comeback.
Collectively, infectious diseases account for 25% of all annual physician visits. The total cost of treatment and lost productivity associated with infectious diseases in Canada is estimated to exceed $12 billion each year. Antibiotics are the second most frequently prescribed class of drugs – second only to pain relievers.
The good news is that Canada-based institutions like the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization – International Vaccine Centre (VIDO – InterVac), located at the University of Saskatchewan, in the city of Saskatoon, are leading the way in infectious disease research. Winnipeg is also home of the National Microbiology Laboratory (NML) which houses the only Containment Level 4 operational laboratories in Canada working on some of the most serious pathogens including Ebola, Marburg and Lassa Fever.
Brad Peters Director of International Sales at Tourism Saskatoon, says: “The University of Saskatchewan has grown a worldwide reputation as a Canadian University with one of the broadest disciplines, particularly in the life sciences. All on one beautiful and central campus, with cutting-edge programs and research in areas such as medicine, veterinary medicine, agriculture, kinesiology, nursing, biology and toxicology. In Saskatoon, you can exchange ideas with leading researchers in the fields connected to the prevention and control of infectious diseases. ”
In this context, VIDO – InterVac, thanks to a multidisciplinary approach, focusses on human and animal health, primarily through vaccine and technology development. They have, for instance, commercialized eight animal vaccines including six world firsts. When the Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus spread to North America in 2013, they managed to develop an improved vaccine before the virus infected Canada.
The University of Saskatchewan is also home to Canada’s only synchrotron which harnesses powerful imaging and analytical techniques to solve challenges in health, environment, materials science and other areas of global social and economic importance.
It is safe to argue that Canada has become a global force in infectious disease research. Over just a few years, the opening of new world-class facilities and the creation of prestigious organisations have added to the country’s already well-established reputation.
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Picture: Canadian Light Source