Publications

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2018
Benmarhnia, T, Alexander S, Price K, Smargiassi A, King N, Kaufman JS.  2018.  The heterogeneity of vulnerability in public health: a heat wave action plan as a case study. Critical Public Health. 28:619-625.   10.1080/09581596.2017.1322176   AbstractWebsite

The concept of vulnerability is frequently used in public health policies to develop tailored interventions or dedicate proportionately more resources to certain sub-populations. However, once segments of the population are identified as vulnerable, they are rarely consulted regarding whether this label is acceptable before instituting interventions. Instead, it is implicitly assumed that the targeted individuals identify themselves as vulnerable and experience an unambiguous and consistent need for public health assistance. In this paper, using public health interventions during heat waves as a case study, we question such assumptions. A qualitative study was conducted in Montreal, Canada involving two focus groups among populations specifically targeted by the heat action plan as vulnerable: one composed of individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia, and one composed of individuals who have alcohol or drug addictions. Findings revealed significant heterogeneity in the definition and experience of vulnerability as it is used in the context of a heat action plan in Montreal. We found differences between the two focus groups in several areas including sources of information they had access to within the heat action plan measures and their perspectives regarding the appropriateness of specific measures in the heat action plan. We then observed differences within each of the focus groups in several areas including their social networks relationships. The concept of vulnerability is often used in public health policies. Yet, while this concept may be convenient for shaping policies to reduce inequalities in health, the heterogeneity of populations defined as vulnerable should not be underestimated.

2016
Benmarhnia, T, Bailey Z, Kaiser D, Auger N, King N, Kaufman JS.  2016.  A Difference-in-Differences Approach to Assess the Effect of a Heat Action Plan on Heat-Related Mortality, and Differences in Effectiveness According to Sex, Age, and Socioeconomic Status (Montreal, Quebec). Environmental Health Perspectives. 124:1694-1699.   10.1289/EHP203   AbstractWebsite

BACKGROUND: The impact of heat waves on mortality and health inequalities is well documented. Very few studies have assessed the effectiveness of heat action plans (HAPs) on health, and none has used quasi-experimental methods to estimate causal effects of such programs.OBJECTIVES: We developed a quasi-experimental method to estimate the causal effects associated with HAPs that allows the identification of heterogeneity across subpopulations, and to apply this method specifically to the case of the Montreal (Quebec, Canada) HAP.METHODS: A difference-in-differences approach was undertaken using Montreal death registry data for the summers of 2000-2007 to assess the effectiveness of the Montreal HAP, implemented in 2004, on mortality. To study equity in the effect of HAP implementation, we assessed whether the program effects were heterogeneous across sex (male vs. female), age (>= 65 years vs. < 65 years), and neighborhood education levels (first vs. third tertile). We conducted sensitivity analyses to assess the validity of the estimated causal effect of the HAP program.RESULTS: We found evidence that the HAP contributed to reducing mortality on hot days, and that the mortality reduction attributable to the program was greater for elderly people and people living in low-education neighborhoods.CONCLUSION: These findings show promise for programs aimed at reducing the impact of extreme temperatures and health inequities. We propose a new quasi-experimental approach that can be easily applied to evaluate the impact of any program or intervention triggered when daily thresholds are reached.