Nov 13, 2023

Staff Spotlight: Dr. Susitha Wanigaratne


Dr. Susitha Wanigaratne is a Senior Research Associate at the Edwin S.H. Leong Centre for Healthy Children and a social epidemiologist with a PhD in Epidemiology and a Masters of Health Science from the Dalla Lana School of Public Health. She provides an overview of her work at the Centre.

My research examines the structural and social determinants of immigrant and refugee health. I primarily use national and provincial immigration-health linked administrative databases in my research but also have experience with qualitative and community-engaged and participatory research methods. Most recently, I have supported research examining COVID-19 vaccine coverage among pediatric immigrant and refugee populations, and understanding changes in the uptake of the enhanced well-baby visit and diagnosis of neurodevelopmental outcomes among refugee children in Ontario. I am currently involved in a project that examines the maternal health of persons seeking asylum in Canada. Taking the perspective that there is health in all policies, I am also leading a scoping review to understand and evaluate the structural and social supports offered to resettle refugees in ten host countries. In the coming months, I am launching a community-partnered scoping review that assesses the health of international students globally. Using an intersectional lens, I hope to draw attention to the experiences of this growing and important group of young migrants.  

Question: What is the most important project or area that you have worked on to date in this role and why?

Answer: Many of the projects I’m working on now are in the early stages but the one area that I am grateful to have had the opportunity to think more about was race and racism & child health in preparation for a talk I gave for the SickKids Research Institute Diversity and inclusion in your Research Design series. Doing research for that talk really highlighted to me the multi-layered ways in which racism can harm children’s health. While the literature is largely based in the United States, there is much we can learn from our neighbors to the south and large and important research gaps in understanding these experiences and the effects of these experiences on the health of racialized children and youth in Canada.

Question: How does your work engage community partners in the research process?

Answer: I am very fortunate to have worked with Laadliyan Celebrating & Empowering Daughters and several other really inspiring community members since about 2017; we’ve worked on a few projects together and continue to work together on ongoing and new projects. I’ve engaged community partners in an epidemiological study at the stage of where I was grappling with understanding quantitative results and they really opened my eyes to explanations that I had been missing and were really crucial to understanding the context of the problem, which was grounded in the experiences of community members (see Wanigaratne et al. 2018). In that paper, two community members were co-authors on that paper. I also engaged a wider group of community organizations and community members in a follow-up to the quantitative study. We collaborated on a qualitative community-based participatory research project where they were involved throughout the entire research process – from inception of the project, design, recruitment, analysis, authorship of the paper, knowledge dissemination and co-design of an educational intervention (see Wanigaratne et al. 2023). The international scoping review project I spoke about earlier was really inspired by the work Laadliyan has done and continues to do with female international students in the Brampton, Ontario. We are in the planning stages and have begun discussing how we will collaborate and how we want to approach doing the review.