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Dr. Kirsty Duncan  

Pandemic Influenza and Environmental & Human Health Expert

When Canadian medical geographer Dr. Kirsty Duncan read about the 1918 Influenza pandemic that swept the world to become the worst plague in human history, she was horrified that we still knew so little about the flu and why it had spread so quickly. In an effort to prepare for what is thought by experts to be inevitable – another such pandemic, she lead an international, multi-discipline scientific expedition to exhume the bodies of a group of Norwegian miners, all victims of the epidemic.

Her expedition culminated in her writing a book, Hunting The 1918 Flu: One Scientist's Search For A Killer Virus. The book was short-listed for the 2004 Canadian Science Writers' Association awards. Dr. Duncan's second academic book, Environment and Health: Protecting Our Common Future was published in the United Kingdom in March, 2008. She completed work, regarding climate change and human health for North America, for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a joint venture of the United Nations Environmental Programme and the World Meteorological Organization. She was recognized on Parliament Hill in 2008 for her contribution to the Nobel-Prize winning Canadian team on the IPCC.

Dr. Duncan is currently the Liberal Member of Parliament in the Etobicoke North riding, as well as an Associate Professor (on leave) at the University of Toronto where she teaches health studies. She formerly taught corporate social responsibility at the Rotman School of Management, and has held appointments with the University of Windsor. Prior to being elected, she sat on the Advisory Board for Pandemic Flu for the Conference Board of Canada, the University of Toronto, and was also helping organizations prepare throughout the United States. She currently sits on the Boards of the St. Andrew's Society of Toronto and the Toronto Foundation for School Success. In 2006, she co-developed and ran the Millennium Goals Bus Tour, which visited tier-one business schools in Canada and the United States, and inspired students to take action locally and globally.

Dr. Duncan completed her bachelor degree, a double specialist in geography and anthropology and a minor in psychology, at the University of Toronto in 1989 and graduated with distinction. She completed her doctoral degree in geography at the University of Edinburgh in 1992. Following the completion of her doctoral degree, she worked for the University of Windsor where she taught meteorology, climatology and climate change, and the University of Toronto where she taught infectious disease, medical geography, and women's health.

In 2001 and 2000, Dr. Duncan was nominated for the Order of Ontario. She was awarded the Arnold G. Wedum Memorial Lectureship for 1999 at the 42nd Biological Safety Conference for 'outstanding contributions to biological safety'. Dr. Duncan was nominated for Canada's Top 40 Under 40 in 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2001. During the spring of 2009, much attention was paid to Dr. Duncan's knowledge and research concerning influenza pandemics, and the rising alarm in Canada caused by the H1N1 flu.

Canada in a Warmer World

    Over the next century, global mean temperature is predicted to rise 1.4-5.8 o C relative to 1990. Such a change may not seem significant, but a temperature decrease of 2.0-4.0 o C is enough to bring on a near hemispheric ice age.

    The projected warming, which is likely to be without precedent during the last 10,000 years, will profoundly affect the Earth and humanity. Sea levels will rise, glaciers and permafrost will melt, and small island states might be abolished through flooding.

    This talk explores what warmer temperatures in Canada will mean in terms of ecosystems, human health threats, such as emerging and re-emerging diseases, human settlements, and water resources, and what we must do to be prepared.


Corporate Contributions to Our Common Future


Corporate corruption struck investor confidence hard in 2001, and in the wake of disgrace, calls to improve corporate citizenship echo in boardrooms across nations-from Australia to Canada to the United States-and from global organizations, such as the United Nations and the World Economic Forum. But what is corporate citizenship, and what does it include?

    This talk describes common responsibilities of corporate social responsibility, and then focuses on crucial global environmental issues and health concerns, and where business can make positive changes to society. Specifically, this talk questions what contributions business can make to shareholders, as well as to the preservation of our planet and humanity.


Emerging Human Health Threats

    The talk explores emerging threats-such as, Avian influenza in Hong Kong, Ebola hemorrhagic fever in Africa, Variant Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease in the United Kingdom, and West Nile virus in the United States-the possible reasons for their emergence, and what can be done in the fight against these diseases.


Hunting for 1918 Flu

    In 1918-19, the Spanish flu pandemic swept the world in three great waves and killed an estimated 20-40 million people in just one year, more than the number that died during the four years of the First World War.

    Today, while the Spanish flu has faded in the public's memory, most virologists are convinced that sooner or later a similar deadly flu virus will return; and thus anything we can learn from the 1918 flu would be invaluable.

    This talk details my ten-year hunt for the Spanish flu virus in frozen Spitsbergen - from the initial search for victims to putting together a multinational, multidisciplinary team of experts, to spending twenty-two months seeking permission from Norwegian authorities, to developing detailed biosafety protocols, to undertaking the expedition and exhumations, to transporting and analyzing the tissues.

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