Here Comes Trouble: Stories from My Life

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Niki Ashton

Niki Ashton represents the electoral district of Churchill in Manitoba in the Canadian parliament

November 4th, 2012 12:20 PM

A Healthy Society: How a Focus on Health Can Revive Our Democracy

I want to invite you to the US launch of a visionary book written by my good friend, Dr. Ryan Meili.

On November 5th Bluestocking Books in New York City will host the US launch of Dr. Ryan Meili’s book A Healthy Society. This work, blending storytelling from front line experience with compelling ideas for social change, offers a refreshing rethink of how, and why, we do politics.

In some ways it seems strange to have a book launch on November 5th, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and on the eve of a presidential election. In truth, it couldn’t be more fitting.

Democracy – in Canada and in the USA – is in a crisis of crises, bouncing from issue to issue without a sense of direction. Lacking an articulated goal, it is increasingly difficult to engage citizens in the political process while over arching challenges grow.

Ryan Meili is a family physician and community advocate in the prairie city of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Drawing heavily on patient stories from his work in the inner city, in rural Mozambique, and in Canadian First Nations communities, Meili argues that a focus on the determinants of health could change not only health outcomes, but our approach to politics as a whole.

Making the health and well-being of citizens the explicit goal of a society – and recognizing that it is not health care, but income, education, employment, housing, nutrition, and the wider environment that have the greatest impact on health outcomes – gives us a novel and compelling framework through which to judge our political decisions.

One particularly powerful story starts the book, with Dr Meili taking the strange step of buying cigarettes for a severely ill patient struggling to stay in hospital for treatment of complications of HIV infection. This story casts a light on the deep impact of the social determinants of health in the life of one person. Stories like hers are woven through the book, illustrating different determinants of health and their impact on individuals, families and communities as a way to highlight the larger system changes needed for greater health. His TEDx talk gives a quick and compelling summary of the ideas in the book.

For US audiences, A Healthy Society is particularly relevant in the light of an election where debates over health care coverage have been front and centre.  Focusing on the determinants of health opens the debate wider, allowing consideration not only of health insurance, but of that which makes a real difference in our health and well-being. It also offers a chance to move beyond the politics of personality to evidence-based policy in service of the common good.

A primary, but oft-ignored, determinant of health is the physical environment. From Silent Spring to Sandy, demonstrating the way damage to ecosystems damages human health gives us an entrance to addressing conservation, climate change and other key environmental challenges that may otherwise be closed.

Combining powerful analysis and compelling stories, Dr. Ryan Meili inspires us to engage in new politics to build a healthier, more equal society. The New York launch of A Healthy Society offers a moment of calm consideration of the road forward amidst the chaos of storms and the tumult of elections.

I hope you can make it - or read the book!

Niki Ashton


Dr. Ryan Meili will be launching his book at 7:00 pm. on November 5, 2012 at the Bluestockings Bookstore, 172 Allen St., New York. He will be joined by author & activist Andrew Boyd, assembler of Beautiful Trouble (http:///www.beautifultrouble.org) and will be interviewed by Dr Betsy Rosenthal of Physicians for a National Health Plan. See more details and invite friends at http://www.facebook.com/events/361892080567821/  You can learn more about Dr. Meili by visiting ryanmeili.ca

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