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Published on November 15th, 2017 | from CAMH

From Policy to Planning: Lessons in Global Knowledge Exchange

By Emily Lentinello, Special Advisor and Project Coordinator, Transformative Global Health, CAMH

In 2017, CAMH’s Office of Transformative Global Health developed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Government of Uruguay as a way of agreeing to exchange information and knowledge about mental health and substance use programs and policies. As a result of this agreement, three delegates from the Government of Uruguay arrived in Toronto for an official visit in October.

Organizing their itineraries for the week was no small task, and work began from the moment we received the panicked call saying, “People from Uruguay are coming in October. Please organize their visit!” Each delegate specialized in a different area: Sabrina Speranza works in drug education and intervention for youth; Sebastién Eirea oversees the national cannabis regulation program; and Dr. Juan Triaca focuses on addiction medicine and heads the National Information and Referral Centre. We wanted to ensure that we offered a comprehensive, informative experience for our partners from Uruguay.

Thankfully, we had some experience on our side. Dr. Benedikt Fischer, a Senior Scientist at the Institute for Mental Health Policy Research at CAMH, has worked with Uruguay in the area of cannabis research before. His guidance was very helpful in providing direction and suggesting key contacts. I approached Health Canada, the Ministry of Health, the Uruguayan Consulate, and many wonderful staffers at CAMH from various departments, who all agreed to set aside time to meet with the delegates over the course of the week. As English was not their first language, I relied on Spanish-speaking CAMH staffers to volunteer their time, and their excellent help allowed me to meet with people I wouldn’t normally be in contact with.

The delegates were here for five days and met with a variety of people:

  • Speranza spent time meeting with staff at Workman Arts, CAMH Education, and PSSP to gain knowledge and insight into their work at CAMH.
  • Triaca visited staff in the Addiction Medicine units and learned about both the inpatient and outpatient programs at CAMH.
  • All three delegates met with Addictions and Mental Health Ontario where they also visited the Moss Park pop-up safe site clinic.

This visit was also a good way to engage with the Uruguayan Consulate in Toronto, and we invited a representative to formally greet the delegates and participate in a tour of CAMH.  Through some creative networking, and a bit of luck, we managed to invite Uruguayan Ambassador Martin Vidal to come to Toronto to visit CAMH and meet the delegates.

From left to right: Emily Lentinello, Uruguayan Ambassador Martin Vidal, Dr. Benedikt Fischer, Ms. Sabrina Speranza, Dr. Juan Triaca, and Mr. Sebastién Eirea

Canada is currently working hard to develop legislation for cannabis regulation, and as Uruguay is the first country in the world to sell cannabis over-the-counter, we wanted Mr. Eirea to meet with Canadian officials to describe the process of legalization through a South America lens. Eric Costens, Director General of the Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Secretariat, Senator Tony Dean and Senator Gwen Boniface all expressed interest in attending. To top things off, Ambassador Vidal indicated he too would like to join the meeting with Health Canada and the Senators.

It was at this point I stopped sleeping. I was half-expecting to hear that Trudeau or perhaps the Queen herself would also like to attend these meetings too.

Exchanging information about cannabis policy and regulation in Canada and Uruguay. From left to right: Mr. Brendan Koop (Health Canada), Senator Tony Dean, Ambassador Martin Vidal, Ms. Sabrina Speranza, Lilian Eisner De Schwarz (interpreter), Dr. Juan Triaca, Mr. Sebastién Eirea, and Eric Costens (Health Canada).

In addition to the meetings, we toured a licensed cannabis production facility. Learning about the science and strict regulation behind cannabis production was eye-opening and was not at all like I expected. The delegates were fascinated with the tour, and we spoke about the difference in cannabis production here versus there (e.g. the use of hydroponics compared to Uruguay where soil is used).

Visiting a licensed cannabis production facility in Toronto. From left to right: Eric Costens (Health Canada), Lilian Eisner De Schwarz (interpreter), Mr. Brendan Koop (Health Canada), Mr. Sebastién Eirea, and Senator Tony Dean.

In all, the delegates’ visit was informative and enlightening, and I know that the staff they met also learned a great deal from them. On the final day of their visit, they gave a presentation on their work in Uruguay which triggered an engaging discussion.

International visits and exchanges of information are vital to ensuring that we all benefit from the vast amount of global knowledge on mental health and addictions. As a leader in mental health and addictions, CAMH is in a good position to be a big part of that knowledge exchange.

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