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OSPN responds to Ontario’s cut of the Wastewater Surveillance Initiative

The Ottawa Science Policy Network (OSPN) is concerned with the decision of the Ontario Government to cancel the Wastewater Surveillance Initiative (WSI) in Ontario. This cut of $15 million per year employs researchers, and offers significant returns for public health and safety. 

The Wastewater Surveillance Initiative was adopted in January 2021 which led to a team of groundbreaking and internationally recognized work led by scientists at Ontario universities and research institutes. Ontario is a world leader in this field of wastewater research; tracking the impact of COVID-19 on communities through wastewater has helped shape public policy decisions and informed Ontarians of risks within the population. This funding not only provided the necessary means to track COVID-19 levels within the population but was further expanded to screen for Influenza, RSV, and M-Pox. Elizabeth Payne, a correspondent for Ottawa Citizen notes that wastewater surveillance at the start of seasonal RSV prevented 295 pediatric hospitalizations and 950 medically attended hospital visits, saving Ontario $3.5 million.  

As of July 31st 2024 the Ontario government will no longer be investing in the Wastewater Surveillance Initiative, mentioning a key reason being that the Federal government will be expanding their program through the Public Health Agency of Canada. However, this leaves research groups and graduate students who rely on Ontario funding in a precarious position as the future of their funding remains uncertain.    

OSPN prides itself of being the most recent science policy group to examine the issue of brain drain within Canadian graduates. We found that nearly two-thirds of Canadian graduate researchers are considering leaving Canada due to better financial and job prospects. By cutting the Wastewater Surveillance Initiative the Ontario Government is only worsening the conditions leading to brain drain. A survey of the 13 academic groups participating within the Wastewater Surveillance Initiative showed that 95 researchers would be impacted by this program cut.

Breakdown of the 95 researchers impacted by WSI funding cut: 

Graduate Students - 19

Post-Doc Fellow - 9 

Research Technicians - 41 

Research Associate/Assistant - 26 

Direct impacts include salaries or research projects directly funded by this research grant, and indirect impacts include projects-at-risk if wastewater sampling is stopped. 12 graduate students would be directly impacted by this cut. Projects which students pay sizable tuition costs to continue would be cut, leaving their academic success in jeopardy and their financial situation unstable. 

We call for the Ontario Government to amend their decision to cut the Wastewater Surveillance Initiative and provide the funding to allow these crucial research projects to continue.

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