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Faculty of Community Services

Levelling the playing field in health care

jordan tustin

Jordan Tustin, Occupational and Public Health, faculty


When the Ebola virus was ravaging West Africa in 2014, claiming thousands of lives and devastating families and communities, the situation appeared hopeless. But Jordan Tustin, an infectious disease epidemiologist and an assistant professor in Ryerson’s School of Occupational and Public Health, knew she could make a difference. Later that year, she boarded a plane for Guinea, the area’s hardest-hit country, to join a World Health Organization team trying to contain the disease. She helped to identify new cases, then find and monitor their possible contacts to prevent further spreading.

“We were able to break chains of transmission, and that helped save lives,” says Tustin.

For Tustin, her work in West Africa wasn’t only a fight against Ebola, but for social justice. As a deeply impoverished region without basic infrastructure and with a population that didn’t understand Ebola and denied its existence, the area was poorly equipped to deal with the disease. Despite these facts, she says, the global community’s response to the outbreak was slow and insufficient, which exacerbated its toll. Indeed, it evolved into the worst Ebola epidemic in history, with 28,000 cases and 11,000 deaths. Those factors resulted in a desperate, time-sensitive situation, which motivated Tustin to act.

“I strongly believe in health equity, and a responsibility to lend my expertise to more vulnerable popula-tions,” Tustin says.

It is an ethos she has embraced throughout her epidemiology career, which has included assisting with out-breaks of H1N1 flu in Mexico City and Nunavut, and food-borne illnesses across Canada. It is also one she emphasizes to her students, so they will better appreciate the socio- economic dynamics of disease outbreaks. She encouraged her students to help in the war against the Ebola virus, which inspired them to form the Ryerson University Public Health Student Organization, and to organize a symposium that raised more than $3,600 for Doctors Without Borders.

“We talk a lot about the social determinants of health,” Tustin says, “and how we need to address them in order to improve health equality.”