MAP hosts 2023 Solutions for Healthy Cities Symposium

On March 23, 2023, MAP hosted the second Solutions for Healthy Cities Symposium at the beautiful Symes in Toronto. Almost 200 researchers, service providers, policymakers, students and community experts gathered to explore and discuss this year’s theme: the science and practice of implementation success.

About the 2023 Symposium

A healthier, more equitable future depends on policy and service innovation – doing things differently – across sectors. However, even the most promising new approaches can, and often do, fail to create their intended impacts. How can we beat the odds and give equity interventions the best shot at implementation success?

Participants joined us to gain the knowledge, skills and tools needed to be more successful in advancing, improving and scaling up complex interventions; use proven strategies and tools from the field of implementation science to avoid and overcome common implementation roadblocks; and be more effective in fostering and benefiting from crucial partnerships with scientific, service provider, and community partners.

2023 Keynote: Dr. Ibram X. Kendi

Dr. Ibram X. Kendi joined the event virtually, in conversation with MAP Director Dr. Stephen Hwang and followed by a Q&A with the audience. The thoughtful and moving discussion explored how racist ideas and assumptions can shape policies, research questions, and health care experiences. Dr. Kendi emphasized the importance of antiracist interventions that address the social determinants of health.

Dr. Ibram X. Kendi is the founding director of the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research and author of many highly acclaimed books including Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, and How to Be an Antiracist. In 2020, Time magazine named Dr. Kendi one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

Learning Sessions

Presentations were focused on implementation: turning strong evidence into successful policies, programs and services. Step by step, each learning session walked participants through a stage of the Active Implementation Framework, illustrated by presenters’ real-life experiences, challenges and lessons learned. All sessions included a special focus on equity and partnerships in the context of implementation – elements that are challenging to get right and are crucial to an intervention’s success.


Dr. Patricia O’Campo, Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Population Health Intervention Research
Cathy Watts, Co-Founder, Peer2Peer Consultants
Karen McDonald, Research Manager, Centre on Drug Policy Evaluation
Matt Johnson, Health Promoter, Safe Consumption Services, Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre
Dr. Sean B. Rourke, Director, CIHR Centre for REACH in HIV/AIDS
Lena Soje, Social Worker, Philip Aziz Centre
Debby Warren, Executive Director, ENSEMBLE Services Greater Moncton
Dr. Stephen Hwang, Director, MAP Centre for Urban Health Solutions, Unity Health Toronto
Kathryn Gibb, Program Manager for Supportive Housing, SHIP (Services and Housing In the Province)
Dr. Stefan Baral, Director, Key Populations Program, Center for Public Health and Human Rights, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

In Participants’ Words

“All of the speakers were amazing! Great blend of disciplines and topics.”

“The program progression and accompanying guide were really helpful, no matter what stage, focus or level of expertise.”

“There was such a diversity of people in attendance – excellent to meet people in all types of work.”

“I loved the thoughtful planning to connect the different projects. Really excellent and seamless event!”

“A highlight was the opportunity to ask questions of Ibram X. Kendi – fantastic!”

“I appreciated the breaks, food, and care for us so that we could be fully present to learn.”

“The affordability was amazing and really opened doors for access.”

“I loved that all the presentations were focused on equity-seeking projects.”

Thank You

This symposium was made possible thanks to Even the Odds (a partnership of MAP and Staples Canada), the St. Michael’s Foundation, and the generous contributions of our visionary donors.

In low-income neighbourhoods, babies of immigrant parents are born healthier: study

From CTV News

In Ontario’s poorest neighbourhoods, newborns of non-refugee immigrant mothers face a lower risk of serious illness and death than those born to Canadian-born mothers, according to a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal on Monday.

Both immigration status and living in a low-income neighbourhood are associated with worse outcomes for newborns, write researchers from the University of Toronto, two Toronto hospitals, the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

However, while previous research has looked at the risk of adverse outcomes for newborns in low- versus high-income neighbourhoods, the study’s authors said it has overlooked the comparative risks for babies born to immigrant and non-immigrant parents living in similar low-income neighbourhoods.

“Efforts should be aimed at improving the overall health and well-being of all females residing in low-income areas, and at determining if the risk of adverse birth outcomes can be equitably reduced among immigrant and non-immigrant groups,” wrote co-author Jennifer Jairam.

To compare the risk of severe neonatal illness and death in immigrant- and non-immigrant-born infants, researchers looked at data on all live, in-hospital births of single babies from 20 to 42 weeks’ gestation between 2002 and 2019 in Ontario.

App designed by St. Michael’s researchers offers 24/7 support to people with gambling concerns

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From Unity Health Toronto

The SPRinG app, designed in partnership with community groups and people who have experienced problem gambling, is a low-barrier, self-management journaling and tracking tool that helps users understand their gambling patterns and urges. It’s a research tool to gain insights into this population, and explore the feasibility of addressing problem gambling with a digital solution.

Problem gambling is associated with a range of health concerns, including substance use, mental illness, chronic illness and disability. Research suggests that prevalence of problem gambling among people experiencing homelessness is up to 58 per cent, nine times higher than the general population.

Dr. Flora Matheson is a Research Scientist, Dr. Arthur McLuhan is a Senior Research Associate, and Madison Ford is a Research Coordinator at MAP Centre for Urban Health Solutions. Dr. Alireza Sadeghian is a professor at the Department of Computer Science at Toronto Metropolitan University. They spoke about leading the SPRinG project, the questions they’re hoping to answer and why they’re passionate about this work.

Q: How does the SPRinG app work?

Ford: The app centres around users journaling about their gambling urges and gambling events, and the circumstances surrounding those urges and events. All of this information is collected through the app, allowing users to learn about their behaviour. For example, users can track their location during a gambling urge, how much money they’ve lost in gambling events for the past week, and how this compares to previous weeks. All of these variables help users identify triggers and high-risk situations and develop strategies for managing them.

When users are experiencing an urge, the app offers them four options to deter them from gambling: 1) engage in a distraction, 2) contact a friend, 3) engage in alternate activities and 4) contact a 24/7 crisis line.

Q: How did you develop the app?

Matheson: It started with initial funding from the Ontario Ministry of Health to develop a prototype about five years ago, and now we’re at the recruitment stage. We’ve received subsequent funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research through the Collaborative Health Research Projects Initiative.

At MAP, we have a research program that looks at the connections between problem gambling, homelessness and poverty.

In Ontario, there are not enough gambling support services for those who need them. These services are often siloed, and many have long wait lists. Our community partners wanted a tool that could bridge these services, and could be accessed outside of normal 9-5 business hours, when a gambling event is likely to occur. This could be at 5 p.m., when a friend calls asking to go to the casino, or on the weekends, when support services might be closed. The app is always there in users’ back pockets, whenever they need it.

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Une application conçue par des chercheurs de St. Michael’s offre un soutien 24 heures sur 24, 7 jours sur 7, aux personnes ayant des problèmes de jeu

Conçue en partenariat avec des groupes communautaires et des personnes ayant connu des problèmes de jeu, l’application SPRinG est un outil convivial d’autogestion qui permet aux utilisateurs de suivre et de consigner des données pour mieux comprendre leurs habitudes et leurs envies de jeu. Il s’agit d’un outil de recherche servant à mieux connaître cette population et à explorer la faisabilité d’une solution numérique pour lutter contre la dépendance au jeu.

La dépendance au jeu est associée à toute une série de problèmes de santé tels que la toxicomanie, les maladies mentales, les maladies chroniques et l’invalidité. Des études suggèrent que la prévalence des problèmes de jeu chez les personnes en situation d’itinérance s’élève à 58 %, ce qui est neuf fois plus élevé que dans la population générale.

Flora Matheson est chercheuse, Arthur McLuhan est associé de recherche principal et Madison Ford est coordonnatrice de la recherche au Centre MAP pour des solutions de santé urbaine. Alireza Sadeghian est professeur au département d’informatique de l’Université métropolitaine de Toronto. Ils nous parlent de la direction du projet SPRinG, des questions auxquelles ils espèrent répondre et des raisons pour lesquelles ce travail les passionne.

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Staples Canada and MAP kick off third year of ‘Even the Odds’ partnership with fundraising campaign

Annual fundraising campaign runs until May 7; all fundraising efforts raised more than $2.1 million in 2022

Staples Canada and MAP kick off third year of 'Even the Odds' partnership with fundraising campaign. (CNW Group/Staples Canada ULC)

RICHMOND HILL, ON, April 17, 2023 – What would a future that’s fair for everyone look like? Staples Canada and leading research centre MAP have once again partnered to Even the Oddsraising awareness of inequity in Canada and funding the development of program and policy solutions via in-store and online donations.

“One of Staples Canada’s core beliefs is that everyone should be given the opportunity to thrive,” said Wanda Walkden, Chief Human Resources and Communications Officer, Staples Canada. “With this in mind, we’re so proud of our partnership with MAP. We have made great strides since Even the Odds launched in 2021, and we are ready to continue building this momentum to drive positive change and make a true impact within our communities.”

Since its launch in 2021, the Even the Odds campaign has raised more than $3.3-million – surpassing its campaign goals in 2021 and 2022 thanks to the support of Staples’ customers, associates, and vendor-partners as well as corporate match donations.

In Canada, income, education, and experiences of discrimination strongly affect our odds of staying healthy. That’s because social and economic status determine how easy it is to access the resources that are essential for good health. Even the Odds will continue making an impact by funding research and solutions throughout Canada, focusing on four core projects in 2023:

  • Expanding Our Healthbox to three additional provinces: In early 2023, Our Healthbox launched “smart” vending machines in several Eastern Canadian communities, dispensing free HIV self-tests, naloxone kits, COVID-19 rapid tests and other health supplies on demand. Even the Odds will support an additional expansion throughout 2023 to three additional provinces.
  • Continued investment in Clinique Mauve: In 2022, Université de Montréal and the Centre de Recherche en Santé Publique partnered with Staples Canada and MAP to launch a research project for Clinic Mauve, a specialized clinic in Quebec designed to meet the needs of racialized and migrant communities who are LGBTQI+.
  • Expanding APPLE Schools, an award-winning health promotion project: In 2022, Even the Odds brought a tailored version of APPLE Schools to kids in underserved school communities across Alberta. In 2023, Even the Odds will expand the program to schools in Ontario.
  • Launching an innovative outreach program for homeless hospital patients in British Columbia: The Navigator Program helps patients who are homeless to stay well after a hospitalization, by connecting them with health care and social services in the community.

“The growth and progress Even the Odds has seen over the past two years has made an incredible difference in the impact we’re making in communities across Canada,” said Dr. Stephen Hwang, Director, MAP. “We’ve set big goals for the year ahead and are very proud to continue doing this meaningful work with Staples.”

Staples customers can donate Even the Odds at any one of Staples Canada’s 300+ stores or online at

About MAP

MAP is a world-leading research centre dedicated to creating a healthier future for all. Through big-picture research and street-level solutions, MAP scientists tackle complex community health issues—many at the intersection of health and equity. MAP’s 34 scientists and over 130 staff and students work in partnership with communities, researchers, and government leaders across Canada to address issues such as homelessness, unequal access to health care and medicine, and the lifelong effects of childhood poverty. MAP is part of the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute of St. Michael’s Hospital, Unity Health Toronto. For more information, visit

About Staples Canada

Staples Canada is The Working and Learning Company. The privately-owned company is committed to being a dynamic, inspiring partner to customers who visit its 300+ locations and The company has two brands which support business customers: Staples Preferred for small businesses and entrepreneurs, and Staples Professional for medium to large-sized enterprises, as well as seven Staples Studio co-working facilities across Canada. Through Solutionshop, Canadians can access a variety of pack and ship options, as well as a broad suite of business services. Staples is a proud partner of MAP through its Even the Odds campaign, which aims to tackle inequities in communities across Canada and helps make a future that’s fair for everyone. Visit for more information or engage with us at @StaplesCanada on FacebookTwitterInstagramLinkedInTikTok or Pinterest.

WITHWomen app helps women assess their safety

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Letter to the editor in the Toronto Star, by Dr. Patricia O’Campo

Every time we have a public conversation about violence at home, it makes the private conversations possible.

This is why we at MAP Centre for Urban Health Solutions at St. Michael’s Hospital, a site of Unity Health Toronto, were encouraged to see Wendy Gillis and Alyshah Hasham’s article outlining different ways to get support if home is not a safe place.

We would like to update this list with our recently launched WITHWomen suite of apps, available in English, French and Spanish. They can be found at

It is very hard to recognize the early signs of an unsafe relationship, but when women know their safety status and have access to local resources they are better equipped to take action.

These tools can help women assess safety, rank concerns, and support the creation of a tailored safety plan via connection with local resources across the GTHA. This technology is discreet and easy to use.

For example, the WITHWomen App asks nine questions that screen for a variety of unsafe behaviours. Most importantly, the apps are secure, private and web-based (no download necessary). These apps are available for use on phones, computers, tablets — anywhere you can use the internet. The apps include a quick exit function as a safety feature.

Intimate partner violence is enabled by shame and stigma. Our team created these apps so we can use technology as a tool to keep the conversation going.

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L’application WITHWomen aide les femmes à évaluer leur niveau de sécurité

Courrier des lecteurs du Toronto Star, article rédigé par Patricia O’Campo

Chaque conversation publique sur la violence au foyer favorise les conversations privées.

Voilà pourquoi l’équipe du Centre MAP pour des solutions de santé urbaine de l’Hôpital St. Michael’s, un site de Unity Health Toronto, était ravie de lire l’article de Wendy Gillis et d’Alyshah Hasham décrivant différents moyens d’obtenir de l’aide pour les personnes qui ne sont pas en sécurité à la maison.

Nous aimerions ajouter à cette liste notre toute nouvelle série d’applications WITHWomen, disponible en français, en anglais et en espagnol. Ces applications se trouvent au

Il est très difficile de reconnaître les premiers signes d’une relation dangereuse, mais lorsque les femmes connaissent leur niveau de sécurité et ont accès à des ressources locales, elles sont mieux outillées pour agir.

Ces outils peuvent aider les femmes à évaluer leur niveau de sécurité, à classer leurs préoccupations et à créer un plan de sécurité personnalisé en les mettant en contact avec des ressources locales dans toute la RGTH. Cette technologie est discrète et facile à utiliser.

Par exemple, l’application WITHWomen pose neuf questions qui permettent de détecter divers comportements dangereux. Plus important encore, ce sont des applications sécurisées, privées et accessibles en ligne (aucun téléchargement n’est nécessaire). Elles peuvent être utilisées à partir d’un téléphone, d’un ordinateur, d’une tablette – partout où vous avez accès à Internet. Par souci de sécurité, les applications comprennent une fonction de sortie rapide.

La violence conjugale est alimentée par la honte et la stigmatisation. Notre équipe a créé ces applications pour nous permettre de poursuivre la conversation au moyen de la technologie.

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Toronto residents increasingly don’t have a family doctor. Here’s why

From the Toronto Star

The number of people in Toronto who do not have a family doctor jumped significantly during the first two years of the pandemic, with at least 72,000 losing access to their physician, according to new data that underscores the worsening state of primary care in Ontario.

At least 415,000 Toronto residents lacked a family physician as of March 2022, instead turning to emergency departments and walk-in clinics for their health care.

And while there are residents across the city who don’t have access to a family physician, the latest findings from the INSPIRE Primary Health Care project reveal a pattern of inequity, including a higher proportion of residents with the lowest incomes lacking a doctor compared to those with high incomes.

The data shows that at least 120,700 residents with the lowest incomes don’t have regular access to a family physician, with neighbourhoods located in Toronto’s west end, areas north of the downtown and Scarborough most affected by the discrepancy.

“It’s incredibly concerning to see those who are living in the lowest income brackets are more likely to be without a family physician,” said Dr. Mekalai Kumanan, president of the Ontario College of Family Physicians (OCFP).

“We know that socioeconomic factors like access to food and safe housing drive health outcomes. And when you add to this a lack of access to a physician, this will absolutely negatively impact the health of those individuals.”

The new Toronto data mirrors provincial findings from INSPIRE released earlier this year that revealed more than 2.2 million Ontarians lacked a family doctor as of March 2022 — up from about 1.8 million in March 2020.

Health-care leaders, medical organizations and physician groups have been calling for further investments in primary care and warning that targeted reforms are needed to ensure every Canadian is connected to a family doctor or nurse practitioner.

They caution that a lack of access to primary care not only puts an individual’s health at risk, it also puts additional pressure on an already strained health-care system.

“We need bold reform to get us out of this crisis,” said Dr. Tara Kiran, who leads a national research project called OurCare that is gathering public input on how to reform primary care. According to recent OurCare figures, more than 6.5 million Canadians over the age of 18 — or more than one in five adults — do not have a family doctor or nurse practitioner.

This week, OurCare released a report authored by a panel of 35 “everyday Ontarians” who set out a suite of 23 recommendations to improve Ontario’s primary care system. The panel, randomly selected from more than 1,250 volunteers to represent the demographics of Ontario, with more weight given to equity-seeking groups, spent 39 hours learning about primary care and developing their recommendations.

Kiran, a family physician and scientist at St. Michael’s Hospital, a part of Unity Health Toronto, said the public’s voice has been missing from discussions in primary care reform and that these recommendations provide new directions for government and policymakers.

“These citizens together put forward a vision to change the system so it works for everyone,” she said, noting equity is “a foundational value” in the panel’s recommendations. “They’re thinking not just about themselves, but their families, their communities and the system.”

Fentanyl test strips not enough to prevent most opioid overdose deaths, expert warns

From CTV

Paper fentanyl test strips are a simple way for people struggling with substance use to determine if fentanyl has been mixed into their drugs, but some advocates say they fail to help the people most at risk of dying from an opioid overdose.

The tests are low-cost and easy to use. Working similarly to a COVID-19 rapid test, a user mixes a very small amount of the drug they want to test with water, and dips the paper test strip into the solution.

“Then you wait for the result so then on your little test strip,” Karen McDonald, head of Toronto’s Drug Checking Service, told CTV’s Your Morning on Tuesday. “One line will present if your drug is positive for fentanyl, two lines will present if your test is negative for fentanyl.”

However, McDonald – who has 15 years of public sector experience, including in health policy – said the tests aren’t beneficial to people who are addicted to opioids and knowingly taking fentanyl. Someone who has no intention of using opioids and detects the presence of fentanyl in their supply of a different drug would likely alter their consumption in response, she said, but these types of contamination cause the minority of opioid overdoses.

For people who intentionally use opioids, knowing their drugs contain fentanyl is a very small piece of the harm-reduction puzzle.

“For over five years now, fentanyl has really saturated the unregulated opioid supply and is really the opioid of choice for most folks using opioids at this point,” McDonald said. “So, simply knowing if there is fentanyl in their fentanyl doesn’t really add value for folks.”

Syphilis cases in babies skyrocket in Canada amid health care failures

From The Globe and Mail

The numbers of babies born with syphilis in Canada are rising at a far faster rate than recorded in the United States or Europe, an increase public health experts said is driven by increased methamphetamine use and lack of access to the public health system for Indigenous people.

While syphilis has made a global resurgence over the last five years, Canada is an outlier among wealthy nations in its rate of increase: 13-fold over five years, according to Health Canada. The incidence of babies born with syphilis reached 26 per 100,000 live births in 2021, the most recent year available, up from two in 2017, according to the Health Canada data.

That total is on track to increase further in 2022, according to the preliminary government data obtained by Reuters.

Babies with congenital syphilis are at higher risk of low birth weight, bone malformations and sensory difficulties, according to the World Health Organization.

Syphilis in pregnancy is the second-leading cause of stillbirth worldwide, the WHO said.

Yet congenital syphilis is easily preventable if an infected person gets access to penicillin during their pregnancy.

Among the G7 group of wealthier nations for which data is available, only the United States had a higher incidence of syphilis at birth: 74 per 100,000 live births in 2021, triple the rate in 2017, according to preliminary figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There were 2,677 cases of congenital syphilis in the U.S. in 2021 for a population of 332 million, according to preliminary CDC data. Canada had 96 cases for a population of 38 million, according to Health Canada.

People experiencing poverty, homelessness and drug use, and those with inadequate access to the health system, are more likely to contract syphilis through unsafe sex and pass it to their babies, public health researchers said.

“In high-income countries you see it in pockets of disadvantaged populations,” said Teodora Elvira Wi, who works in the WHO’s HIV, Hepatitis and sexually transmitted infection program.

“It’s a marker of inequality. It’s a marker of low-quality prenatal care.”

What sets Canada apart are its Indigenous populations who experience discrimination and often have poor access to health and social services, said Sean Rourke, a scientist with the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, who focuses on prevention of sexually transmitted disease.

“It’s just the whole system, and all the things that we’ve done in bad ways not to support Indigenous communities,” he said.

Health Canada told Reuters it has dispatched epidemiologists to help provinces contain the increase in congenital syphilis. Spokesperson Joshua Coke said the federal government is expanding testing and treatment access in Indigenous communities.

How to stop random violence on the TTC? Seven top experts offer real fixes

From the Toronto Star

Another aching death in Toronto’s transit system — this time, the killing of 16-year-old Gabriel Magalhaes — has renewed a sweeping question the city has faced for months. What do we do now to respond to the thrum of violence that’s shaken the city’s public transit system?

It’s an urgent issue made all the more difficult by the varied circumstances of the alleged perpetrators. While there are signs that at least some of the accused in recent TTC violence cases were struggling with their mental health, experts caution against drawing broad links between mental illness and crime. Similarly, though some of the accused had been living on the streets or in shelters, and homelessness has become increasingly visible on transit, health and social service workers warn against placing blame squarely on that population.  

While experts have warned there is no single cause or simple solution, a consensus has emerged in recent months that suggests faults in the city’s social fabric — with an increasing number of people in desperate circumstances without adequate supports. It’s an assessment backed by Gabriel’s mother, Andrea, who has been outspoken in the days since her son’s death about cuts to social resources, and inadequate access to mental health care.

So, what can be done — in both the short and long term — to meaningfully turn things around? Here’s what seven health researchers and practitioners, criminologists and police leaders, social service workers and mental health advocates would like to see in Toronto’s future.

The idea: A case-by-case deep dive to analyze what’s really happening

While Stephen Hwang, a physician and St. Michael’s Hospital Chair in Homelessness, Housing and Health, can list some general circumstances that can increase someone’s risk factors for violence, he sees Toronto as being in the throes of a condensed string of offences — one that should be examined in detail versus relying on assumptions.

To do that, he suggests a multidisciplinary “expert panel” explore the circumstances of each alleged perpetrator leading up to the moment of violence. (One challenge, he noted, would be protecting the rights of people who hadn’t yet faced trial.)

What did their life look like leading up to that day? Had they sought help in past for their mental health and hit roadblocks? Had they dealt with increased isolation in the last few years? Were there any warning signs or missed interventions, or did it come truly “out of the blue”?

“As a scientist, the first thing you need to do is look for patterns in the data,” Hwang said, cautioning that speculating or painting all the accused of the same brush is “unwise.”

In the short term, Hwang said consistency is important, questioning the effectiveness of increasing police presence in the TTC, only to publicly end that effort within weeks.

“If you know there’s never going to be a policeman there again, then the deterrent effect goes away.”