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Forensic botany and global health

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May 12, 2008
Lights, camera, crime
Solving global health challenges

Lights, camera, crime

SFU botanist Rolf Mathewes will talk about the importance of forensic botany in the three-part news series, Forensic Botany, beginning on Global national and local television tonight. Crime investigators have drawn on Mathewes’ expertise numerous times over the last decade to help solve high profile murders such as the Heather Thomas case. The 10-year-old girl’s body was found on the shores of Alouette Lake in 2000, three weeks after she disappeared. Mathewes helped police secure the conviction of her murderer by using plant matter to identify where she was murdered and where her body was stored. The Global TV news series will examine how the Heather Thomas case exemplifies the growing importance of plants as criminal evidence. The national segments will run in the 5:30 p.m. package May 12 and 13. Longer segments will run in the local news package at 6 p.m. on May 12, 13 and 14. Mathewes can elaborate on the importance of Canada intensifying its use of forensic botony, which has become a fertile source of crime evidence in many other countries. “Pollen is found everywhere in a crime scene,” notes Mathewes. “It’s just a matter of getting creative about finding ways to extract the story it has to tell.”

Rolf Mathewes, 778.782.4472,, Maple Ridge resident

Solving global health challenges
The health hazards of living in a global village, if world leaders don’t get a handle on global health problems, will be a recurring theme at a three-day international conference at SFU. Researchers and policy makers from around the world will gather at the sixth annual Western Regional International Health Conference (WRIHR) to hear how gender inequality, disease, war and poverty are undermining global security and health. Graduate students in the SFU Faculty of Health Sciences’ Global Health masters program are hosting the conference, May 23-25, at the Burnaby campus’ new Blusson Hall. This is the first time the conference is being held in Canada. SFU graduate researchers will feature prominently among the presenters. 

Charlene Phung, a Population and Public Health masters student, will deliver findings on the impact of gender inequity on women’s reproductive health.

Viviane Josewski, a Population and Public Health masters student, will present preliminary results from a qualitative study looking at the impact of mental health reform on First Nations communities in B.C.’s interior.

Alexis Palmer, a Global Health Program masters grad, is presenting a case study that she undertook in Malawi to test the efficacy of task-shifting. It is a strategy to retain health workers and provide greater care to more people affected with HIV/AIDS in Africa.

Hasanat Alamgir, an SFU adjunct professor in the Global Health Program, is looking at how globalization is exploiting the developing world’s environment and causing health inequities. Alamgir’s research reveals how the beaching of spent freighters in developing countries with poor environmental regulations is undermining the health of workers who are dismantling the ships.

Jocelyn Tomkinson, conference coordinator, 778.895.8777 (cell),