Looking back at some of the health stories that The Conversation Canada has sent to your inbox in 2022, there’s an amazing selection of promising research, alarming news, system issues and potential solutions. COVID is still with us, but so are vaccines and new research looking more closely at how COVID-19 affects people. Medical research stories, especially about new discoveries like how COVID-19 damages lungs, or about difficult-to-treat conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, are always a welcome read.

But there have been disturbing stories, too, not just about things like long COVID and cancer diagnosis backlogs, but about issues like China’s transplant system that harvests organs from prisoners and, closer to home, the ethics of Canada’s proposed expansion of eligibility for medical assistance in dying (MAID).

Since we’re ending 2022 with an overburdened health-care system flagging under the weight of a “tripledemic” of RSV, flu and COVID-19 (sorry to be a downer, but it’s hard to ignore), it’s worth pointing out that sometimes alternative approaches to care can make incremental differences. For example, delirium may not be the first condition you think of when you think of clogged health system, but it’s one that’s common enough and serious enough to cause ripples in the system. It’s also often preventable, which means so are the pressures it puts on emergency rooms. Similarly, treating the lung condition chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in primary care might not only improve care, but also prevent emergencies that stress resources.

Beyond helping to prevent health system crises, some measures have the potential to help prevent some health problems from developing in the first place. Researchers have known for a long time that adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are linked with poor health later in life. Perhaps most urgently, children at risk — like those in care — need better better support to achieve better health outcomes.

I’m ending 2022 with a thank you to all our readers and subscribers, and to the researchers and academics who share their expertise in The Conversation Canada. I’m looking forward to bringing 2023’s health stories to your inbox

Patricia Nicholson

Health + Medicine Editor

Year in Review: Health + Medicine

How COVID-19 damages lungs: The virus attacks mitochondria, continuing an ancient battle that began in the primordial soup

Stephen L Archer, Queen's University, Ontario

COVID-19 causes lung injury and lowers oxygen levels in patients because the SARS-CoV-2 virus attacks cells’ mitochondria. This attack is a throwback to a primitive war between viruses and bacteria.

Alzheimer’s might not be primarily a brain disease. A new theory suggests it’s an autoimmune condition.

Donald Weaver, University of Toronto

Alzheimer’s may not be primarily a disease of the brain. It may be a disorder of the immune system within the brain. Beta-amyloid may not be an abnormal protein, but part of the brain’s immune system.

Long COVID: For the 1 in 10 patients who become long-haulers, COVID-19 has lasting effects

Manali Mukherjee, McMaster University; Zain Chagla, McMaster University

Not much is known about “long COVID,” including who, when or how badly it will strike, how long it might take to recover, or whether complete recovery is possible for all.

Cancer treatment and diagnosis backlogs during COVID-19 may affect cancer survival

Timothy P Hanna, Queen's University, Ontario

In future health emergencies and possibly further waves of the COVID-19 pandemic, caution needs to be taken when extending cancer waiting times for reasons unrelated to patients’ health-care needs.

Canada delays expanding medical assistance in dying to include mental illness, but it’s still a policy built on quicksand

Karandeep Sonu Gaind, University of Toronto

Canada’s planned expansion of MAID to mental illness is based on ignorance — if not outright disregard — of fundamental suicide prevention principles.

Killing prisoners for transplants: Forced organ harvesting in China

Ali Iqbal, McMaster University; Aliya Khan, McMaster University

China’s industrial-scale organ trafficking practice has been executing prisoners of conscience and using their organs for transplantation for decades. This is known as forced organ harvesting.

Flu, RSV and COVID-19: Advice from family doctors on how to get through this winter’s ‘tripledemic’

Lita Cameron, McMaster University; Skylar Neblett, McMaster University

Family physicians are on the frontline of health care, and their observations and support can help us get through the upcoming winter season.

With family doctors heading for the exits, addressing the crisis in primary care is key to easing pressure on emergency rooms

Colleen Grady, Queen's University, Ontario

A strong primary care system keeps patients away from emergency departments and helps patients self-manage illnesses. But Ontario’s plan to ease pressure on emergency rooms ignores family medicine.

Preventing delirium protects seniors in hospital, but could also ease overcrowding and emergency room backlogs

George A Heckman, University of Waterloo

Delirium doesn’t just harm vulnerable seniors. It prolongs hospital stays, ties up beds and clogs emergency rooms. Mandating senior-friendly hospital care protects patients and the health-care system.

How improving COPD treatment in primary care could reduce demand on hospitals and emergency departments

Andrew Scarffe, L’Université d’Ottawa/University of Ottawa; Christopher Licskai, Western University; Doug Coyle, L’Université d’Ottawa/University of Ottawa; Kednapa Thavorn, L’Université d’Ottawa/University of Ottawa; Kevin Peter Brand, L’Université d’Ottawa/University of Ottawa

Innovation in primary care for COPD patients has the potential to alleviate a significant strain on the health system by reducing emergency department visits and hospitalizations.

There is an urgent need to prevent the lifelong damage caused by adverse childhood experiences

Wolfgang Linden, University of British Columbia; Joelle LeMoult, University of British Columbia

The impact of early childhood trauma on lifelong physical and mental health makes it urgent to invest in programs to support healthy pregnancies and stable, caring very early childhoods.

We know better, so why aren’t we doing better in supporting the health of children and youth in care?

Kristyn Anderson, Dalhousie University; Alyson Holland, Dalhousie University; Jacquie Gahagan, Mount Saint Vincent University; Steven Smith, Saint Mary’s University; Tania Wong, Dalhousie University; Tonya Grant, Dalhousie University

Children and youth in care are more likely to have experienced trauma that can affect future health. A comprehensive, trauma-informed health strategy for these children and youth is long overdue.