The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to provide this submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health with respect to its study of Canada’s Food Guide. The CMA supports access to healthy foods to improve individual health and well-being and the overall health status of the population.1
1 Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Obesity in Canada: Causes, consequences and the way forward. Ottawa: CMA; 2015. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Briefpdf/BR2015-12.pdf (accessed 2018 Feb 5).
2 Colapinto C, Graham J, St. Pierre S. Trends and correlates of frequency of fruit and vegetable consumption, 2007 to 2014. Health Reports. 2018 January;29(1):9-14. Available: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-003-x/2018001/article/54901-eng.pdf (accessed 2018 Feb 5).
3 Van Vliet B, Campbell N. Efforts to reduce sodium intake in Canada: Why, what, and when? Can J Cardiol. 2011;27(4):437–445.
4 Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Early childhood development. Ottawa: CMA; 2014. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD15-03.pdf (accessed 2018 Feb 2).
5 Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Health equity and the social determinants of health: A role for the medical profession. Ottawa: CMA; 2013. Available http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD13-03.pdf (accessed 2018 Jan 30).
6 Health Canada. Eating well with Canada’s food guide. Ottawa: Health Canada; 2007. Available: https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/hc-sc/migration/hc-sc/fn-an/alt_formats/hpfb-dgpsa/pdf/food-guide-aliment/view_eatwell_vue_bienmang-eng.pdf (accessed 2018 Jan 30).
7 Collier R. Calls for a better food guide. CMAJ. 2018 November 18;186(17):1281. Available: https://doi.org/10.1503/cmaj.109-4911 (accessed 2018 Jan 30).
8 Ministry of Health of Brazil. Dietary guidelines for the Brazilian population. 2nd ed. Brazil: Ministry of Health of Brazil; 2014. Available: http://www.foodpolitics.com/wp-content/uploads/Brazilian-Dietary-Guidelines-2014.pdf (accessed 2018 Feb 1).
9 Report of the Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology. Obesity in Canada. A whole-of-society approach for a healthier Canada. Ottawa: Senate of Canada; 2016 March. Available: https://sencanada.ca/content/sen/committee/421/soci/rms/01mar16/Report-e.htm (accessed 2018 Feb 2).
10 Health Canada. Evidence review for dietary guidance: summary of results and implications for Canada’s food guide. Ottawa: Health Canada; 2015. Available: https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/canada/health-canada/migration/publications/eating-nutrition/dietary-guidance-summary-resume-recommandations-alimentaires/alt/pub-eng.pdf (accessed 2018 Feb 2).
11 Government of Canada. Guiding principles [Canada’s food guide consultation]. Ottawa: Government of Canada; 2017 April 5. Available: https://www.foodguideconsultation.ca/guiding-principles-detailed (accessed 2018 Feb 5).
The CMA has been active on nutritional issues for many years, both directly through its policy and government advocacy as well as through membership in various coalitions. Some of the issues addressed include the nutrition facts table, front-of-package labelling, a ban on the marketing of food and beverages to children younger than 16 years of age, and a levy on the manufacturers of sugar-sweetened beverages.
Canadians’ self-reported dietary intakes do not meet national dietary recommendations despite public education efforts concerning healthy eating and healthy diets. Children and adults are consuming fewer than the recommended number of servings of vegetables and fruits, an established proxy for healthy eating habits, and they are exceeding daily recommended intakes of sodium.2,3
The protection of vulnerable populations including children is of paramount concern to the CMA. Access to nutritious food is essential in early childhood development in support of later adult health.4 The availability of food security programs is a key element in preventing children from developing dietary deficiencies that would lead to an increased risk of chronic disease and greater difficulty in disease management later in life.5
The Food Guide has historically been a valued resource for Canadians, and physicians have found it useful in counselling their patients about healthy eating. However, there are serious concerns with the present Food Guide,6 which was released in 2007, and physicians have increasingly called for it to be reviewed.7
Other countries have made significant changes to their dietary guidelines. Brazil, for example, has developed a guideline that incorporates simple-to-follow, common-sense messaging, such as encouraging Brazilians to prepare meals from scratch and promoting the value of family meals.8
A new, modern Canadian guide is needed. Witnesses appearing before the Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology characterized the current version as being “at best ineffective, and at worst enabling, with respect to the rising levels of unhealthy weights and diet-related chronic diseases in Canada.”9
Health Canada is in the process of revising the Food Guide, having done an extensive review of the evidence10 and releasing Guiding Principles.11
Recommendations for a revised Food Guide
A new approach to a food guide that addresses the larger picture, beyond daily nutrient consumption recommendations, is fundamental to the effort to improve the health of all Canadians and to the larger goal of developing a food policy for Canada. Indeed, “coordinated investments in health promotion and disease and injury prevention, including attention to the role of the social determinants of health, are critical to the future health and wellness of Canadians and to the viability of the health care system.”12
12 Canadian Medical Association (CMA) and Canadian Nurses Association (CNA). Principles for health care transformation in Canada. Ottawa: CMA and CNA; 2011. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD1113.pdf (accessed 2018 Jan 30).
13 Nexus H. Primer to action: Social determinants of health. Toronto: Ontario Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance; 2007. Available: http://www.ocdpa.ca/sites/default/files/publications/PrimertoAction-EN.pdf (accessed 2018 Feb 1).
14 Tarasuk V, Mitchell A, Dachner N. Household food insecurity in Canada. Toronto: PROOF; 2016. Available: http://proof.utoronto.ca/resources/proof-annual-reports/annual-report-2014/ (accessed 2018 Feb 5).
15 Rao M, Afshin A, Singh G, et al. Do healthier foods and diet patterns cost more than less healthy options? A systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ Open. 2013;3:e004277. Available: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3855594/pdf/bmjopen-2013-004277.pdf (accessed 2018 Feb 5).
16Lee A, Mhurchu CN, Sacks G, et al. Monitoring the price and affordability of foods and diets globally. Obes Rev. 2013 Oct;14 Suppl 1:82–95.
17 Food Banks Canada. Hungercount2016: A comprehensive report on hunger and food bank use in Canada, and recommendations for change. Toronto: Food Banks Canada; 2016. Available: https://www.foodbankscanada.ca/hungercount2016 (accessed 2018 Jan 30).
18 Raine K. Improving nutritional health of the public through social change: Finding our roles in collective action. Can J Diet Pract Res. 2014;75(3):160-164. Available: https://doi.org/10.3148/cjdpr-2014-017 (accessed 2018 Feb 2).
19 Canadian Medical Association (CMA). CMA’s Support for Bill S-228: An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (prohibiting food and beverage marketing directed at children).Ottawa: CMA; 2017.Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Briefpdf/BR2017-07.pdf (accessed 2018 Feb 2).
20 Howard, C., Culbert I., Food Guide revamp encouraging plant-based, low-meat diet is good for people and the planet CBC February 11, 2018 Available: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/opinion-canada-food-guide-1.4530058 (accessed 2018 Feb 12)
1. The Food Guide must go hand in hand with efforts to increase access to affordable, healthy food
Food insecurity does not affect all Canadians equally, and there are very clear social patterns of vulnerability.13 Analyses of population survey data consistently identify low income as a predictor of household food insecurity. In addition, rates of food insecurity are highest among Aboriginal Canadians, households reliant on social assistance, households headed by single mothers, and those renting rather than owning a home.14 More research is needed to understand decisions surrounding the purchase of healthy foods versus unhealthy foods.15,16
Food Banks Canada reported that in March 2016, 863,492 people received food from a food bank, an increase of 1.3% over 2015, with eight of 10 provinces showing an increase.17 As the report notes, “approximately 1.7 million Canadian households, encompassing 4 million people, experience food insecurity each year” with 340,000 of them experiencing severe food insecurity.17
Other determinants of healthy eating include a wide range of contextual factors, such as the interpersonal environment created by family and peers, the physical environment, which determines food availability and accessibility, the economic environment, in which food is a commodity to be marketed for profit, and the social environment. Within the social environment, social status (income, education and gender) and cultural milieu are determinants of healthy eating that may be working "invisibly" to structure food choice.15
2. The Food Guide must be based on sound nutritional research
With unhealthy diets consistently linked with chronic disease such as cardiovascular diseases (heart disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, dyslipidemia) and with an estimated 60% of Canadian adults and close to one-third of children being overweight or obese, there is a need for evidence-based approaches in the development of healthy eating policies and practices in Canada.
As the links between nutrition and disease and other impacts of nutrition on the health of our society are revealed and better understood, it is more important than ever to identify what influences healthy eating behaviours.18 Food choices are structured by a variety of individual determinants of behaviour, including one's physiological state, food preferences, nutritional knowledge, perceptions of healthy eating and psychological factors.
The Food Guide needs to incorporate emerging research on nutrition and health, for example, by emphasizing the need to replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats, as opposed to focusing on total fats. It also must take into account the changes in consumer behaviour and in the food supply.
3. The Government of Canada must assure Canadians that the revision process is evidence based
Canadians must be able to trust Canada’s Food Guide as a source of unbiased information, based on evidence. The Food Guide must be part of a larger coordinated approach that also looks at other critical issues, such as the role of the marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages to children.19 CMA is concerned that conflict-of-interest situations have arisen in the past where recommendations might favour certain products or food groups over others.20 Canadians must have confidence that their health and wellness is the primary focus of an evidence-based revision process.
4. The Food Guide must reflect changing eating patterns reflective of our evolving and increasingly multicultural society
Canadian society is more ethnically diverse than in the past, so it is necessary to keep in mind cultural preferences. The current food groups do not always take into account an understanding of traditional foods and cultural eating practices. These are intrinsically linked to identity and culture and contribute to overall health. Advice needs to be tailored to different ages and cultural groups.
There is also a need to emphasize patterns of eating, as opposed to a focus almost exclusively on nutrient requirements. It is important to promote eating as a social undertaking, recognizing the essential role that food has in bringing people together.
It is also important to support the development of basic, practical culinary skills, which will reduce Canadians’ dependence on restaurant meals and ultra-processed foods.
5. The Food Guide must encourage Canadians to reduce their reliance on processed foods
The production and consumption of ultra-processed foods has increased drastically in the last decades in both higher and lower income countries. Highly or ultra-processed food tends to contain less protein and dietary fibre than less processed foods and include high proportions of free sugar, total saturated fat, trans fat and salt. Typically, processed foods are energy dense (high in calories) but have fewer beneficial nutrients such as vitamins and proteins.
Most processed foods encourage unhealthy ways of eating and have become popular because of their accessibility and convenience. These features have changed the way food and in particular these products are consumed compared with unprocessed foods: increased “grazing,” eating alone or eating while carrying out other activities such as work or driving.
In addition, many calories consumed come in liquid form. Physicians are concerned with the Food Guide’s support for fruit juices, given the plethora of sugar-sweetened beverages, including milk and milk alternatives. There should be a maximum amount of juice recommended for children, and the Food Guide should instead support the consumption of actual fruit.
6. The Government of Canada must produce simple, practical products for Canadians and clear dietary guidance for health professionals
Reliable, trustworthy sources of information are essential to support healthy eating. However, the new Food Guide must not be just another set of rules and lists or a long, cumbersome document. The challenge will be to take the evidence around nutrition and health and make it meaningful and useful. This is the only way that the Food Guide will actually be able to support and even provoke change.
To do that it must focus on the needs of the Canadians, with tools that personalize information for different age and cultural groups. It should also be useful to people with certain health conditions who require regulation of their diet to improve health (e.g., people with diabetes or hypertension). It should support couples during pregnancy and breastfeeding. There can’t be only one set of guidance; rather, various versions should be produced that are adapted to different audiences.
The Food Guide needs to be practical and simple to use. The concept of the number and size of servings of different foods, for example, has been very confusing. Research has shown that Canadians do not weigh or measure their foods and serving sizes are often underestimated, promoting overconsumption. The Food Guide must support Canadians in deciphering food labels and making informed choices about what they consume. The use of technology will allow information to be more accessible.
The guidance must be sensitive to issues related to the social determinants of health and food security, with attention to the cost and accessibility of foods. A focus on good sources of proteins, for example, as opposed to red meats and dairy, could allow for more choice. The Food Guide should provide guidance to food banks and other programs that seek to provide food to low-income families in terms of what foods they should procure for their clients.
As one of the most trusted sources of health information, physicians also need to be able to access the latest evidence in a user-friendly manner. Resources must be succinct and easy for physicians to access in a busy practice. They should allow a physician to go into more depth should that be required. As well, point-of-care tools that help clinicians explain technical facts to their patients in an accessible manner are needed.
1. The Food Guide must go hand in hand with efforts to increase access to affordable, healthy food
2. The Food Guide must be based on sound nutritional research
3. The Government of Canada must assure Canadians that the revision process is evidence based
4. The Food Guide must reflect changing eating patterns reflective of our evolving and increasingly multicultural society
5. The Food Guide must encourage Canadians to reduce their reliance on processed foods
6. The Government of Canada must produce simple, practical products for Canadians and clear dietary guidance for health professionals
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to provide this submission in response to Health Canada’s Consultation on “New Health-Related Labelling for Tobacco Products - Document for Consultation, October 2018”.
Canada's physicians have been working for decades toward the goal of a smoke-free Canada. The CMA
issued its first public warning concerning the hazards of tobacco in 1954 and has continued to advocate
for the strongest possible measures to control its use and for the past 30 years we have reiterated our
long-standing support for the concept of tobacco products being sold in standardized packages in several briefs and policy statements. Our response will follow the questions posed in the consultation document.
Labelling on Individual Cigarettes
Displaying a warning on individual cigarettes provides another means of conveying important health warnings about the hazards of smoking. The warnings should be like those that will be displayed on the leaflets included in the cigarette packages as well as the packages themselves. They should be of sufficient size, font and colour that will draw the attention of the smoker to the message. They should also be placed as close to the filter end of the cigarette as possible to remain visible for as long as possible.
Health Information Messages
The CMA has always supported educational and public health initiatives aimed at countering tobacco manufacturers messages that would render smoking attractive and glamorous to their customers. The health information messages and any leaflets included in the package must be of sufficient size, colour and font to prevent manufacturers from using the leaflet as any sort of a promotional platform to minimize, for example, the impact of health warnings on the package exterior.
The CMA supports strongly the concept of tobacco products being sold in standardized packages and we have recommended that only the “slide-and-shell” style of package be authorized and that the “flip-top”
package be removed. This would allow for the largest possible surface area to be used to convey health warnings and other health-related information. The CMA has recommended that the measurements for the regular and king size cigarette packages be amended to allow for more surface area for warnings and to standardize packaging regulations across all Canadian jurisdictions.
Toxic Statements (Includes Toxic Emissions Statements and Toxic Constituents Statements)
The size, colour and design of new Toxic Statements proposed in the consultation document should be sufficient to be read and easily understood. The Statements should be rotated periodically to include new and updated information related to emissions and toxic constituents.
Connecting Labelling Elements/ Quitline Information
Tobacco manufacturers make frequent use of subtle marketing messages to render smoking attractive and glamorous, especially to young people. The CMA supports packages displaying prominent, simple and powerful health warnings, such as the graphic pictorial warnings, as well as quit tips and information on product content and health risks.2 Connecting the themes should help to reinforce the messages being conveyed with these labels. The size, colour, and placement of the proposed quitline and website information should be sufficient to maximize the noticeability of the information on various types of tobacco product packaging.
Percentage of Coverage/Minimum Size of Health Warnings on Tobacco Products Other than Cigarettes and Little Cigars
The amount of space given to the warnings should be sufficient to convey the maximum amount of information while remaining clear, visible, and legible. The warnings should be in proportion to the packaging available, like that of a regular cigarette package.
Labelling for All Tobacco Products that Do Not Currently Require Labels
The CMA supports mandatory health warnings being applied equally to all tobacco products. If package size allows, Health Warnings, Health Information Messages, and Toxic Statements should all be included. The messages should be relevant to the types of tobacco products they are covering.
The rotation timeframe suggested in the consultation document of 12 to 18 months is a reasonable period.
Government of Canada. New Health-Related Labelling for Tobacco Products. Document for Consultation Ottawa: Health Canada; 2018. Available: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/programs/consultation-tobacco-labelling.html (accessed 2018 Oct 29).
Canadian Medical Association (CMA) Tobacco Control (Update 2008). Ottawa: The Association; 2008. Available: http:// policybase.cma.ca /dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD08-08.pdf (accessed 2018 Dec 5).
Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Letter in response to Health Canada’s Consultation on “Plain and Standardized Packaging” for Tobacco Products. Potential Measures for Regulating the Appearance, Shape and Size of Tobacco Packages and of Tobacco Products. Document for Consultation. Ottawa: The Association; 2016. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Briefpdf/BR2016-09.pdf (accessed 2018 Nov 19).
Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Health Canada Consultation on Tobacco Products Regulations (Plain and Standardized Appearance). Ottawa: The Association; 2018. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Briefpdf/BR2019-01.pdf (accessed 2018 Nov 19).
Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Policy Resolution BD88-03-64 - Smokeless tobacco. Ottawa: The Association; 1987. Available: https://tinyurl.com/y7eynl5q (accessed 2018 Dec 5).
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to provide this submission in response to Health Canada’s consultation on new and innovative ideas on how to further strengthen the federal government’s health-focussed approach to substance use issues through the Canadian Drugs and Substances Strategy (CDSS)
What sorts of circumstances do you see within your networks, communities or in society that you think contribute to problematic substance use?
There are multiple factors that contribute to problematic substance use. It is a serious, chronic and relapsing medical condition for which there are effective treatments. However, using the social determinants as a framework, most health promotion and prevention efforts will take place outside of the traditional health and medical care services. .
Many Canadians face barriers in their physical, social and economic environments which can contribute to problematic substance use, and certain populations are at higher risk given these circumstances. For example, early childhood is a critical time in the social, emotional, cognitive and physical development of a person. Experiences in early life can ‘get under the skin’, changing the ways that genes are expressed. Negative experiences such as poverty or family or parental violence can have significant impacts on this important period of development.
What is necessary is a coordinated effort across government sectors to ensure that all policy decisions serve to increase opportunities for health. Improving population health and reducing inequities should be an overall objective for all governments in Canada.
Have you seen or experienced programs, practices or models at the local or regional level that could be expanded, or implemented more broadly, to improve circumstances or social determinants of health that influence substance use?
Income is critical to individual health and is closely linked to many of the other social determinants of health. These include but are not limited to: education, employment, early childhood development, housing, social exclusion, and physical environment. Adequate consideration must be given to the social and economic determinants of health, factors such as income and housing that have a major impact on health outcomes. Minimizing poverty should be a top priority.
In 2015, the CMA passed a resolution endorsing the concept of a basic income guarantee, which is a cash transfer from government to citizens not tied to labour market participation. It ensures sufficient income to meet basic needs and live with dignity, regardless of employment status. A basic income guarantee has the potential to alleviate or even eliminate poverty. It has the potential to reduce the substantial, long-term social consequences of poverty, including higher crime rates and fewer students achieving success in the educational system.
Drug use must not be treated with a criminal justice approach, which does not address the determinants of drug use, treat addictions, or reduce the harms associated with drug use. More investments need to be made in prevention, harm reduction and treatment, keeping individuals out of the criminal justice system. Drug use is a complex issue, and collaboration among health and public safety professionals, and society at large, is essential.
What needs to change to make sure that opioid medications are being provided and used appropriately, based on the needs of each patient?
Policy makers must recognize that prescription opioids are an essential tool in the alleviation of pain and suffering, particularly in palliative and cancer care. Doctors support patients in the management of acute and chronic pain, as well as problematic substance use, and as such have long been concerned about the harms associated with opioid use.
Treatment options and services for both problematic substance use as well as pain management are woefully under-resourced in Canada. Experts believe that improved access to specialized pain treatment could reduce inappropriate use of pain medications. Current best practices in pain management include care by an interprofessional team that could include physiotherapists, occupational therapists, psychologists and other health professionals; non-pharmaceutical interventions such as therapy for trauma and social pain, social supports and coping strategies; appropriate pharmaceutical prescription options, covered by provincial formularies; and a focus on patient participation and empowerment.12 Availability and access of these critical resources varies by jurisdiction and region. The federal government should prioritize the expansion of these services.
It is also important to support clinicians in their practice. The 2017 Opioid Prescribing Guidelines need to be kept current through ongoing funding. Physicians require tools, including those that facilitate monitoring of effectiveness and tolerance by tracking pain and physical function; screening for past and current substance use; screening for depression; and, tapering of problematic or ineffective doses.
How can we make sure that those who require prescription opioids to manage their pain have access to them, without judgement or discrimination?
Governments need to incorporate the identification and elimination of stigma as a quality of care indicator in the ongoing monitoring of health system performance at all levels. They also need to implement and evaluate national public awareness and education strategies to counteract the stigma associated with substance use issues as well as enforcing legislation and regulations to guard against discrimination against people with mental and substance use issues.
Health professionals need to have access to education on pain management and treatment of problematic substance use, recognizing both issues as serious medical conditions for which there are effective treatments.
Which kinds of messages would work best to help Canadians understand the serious harms that can result from stigma around substance use?
A recent report from the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) and Public Safety Canada cited stigma as “an enormous barrier to individuals seeking and maintaining treatment.” Even though there is broad recognition that we are in a public health crisis, until very recently the focus of the federal National Anti-Drug Strategy was heavily skewed towards a criminal justice approach rather than a public health approach with an emphasis on enforcement, as opposed to prevention, treatment and harm reduction.8 This has serious implications in how society views people who use drugs. As noted in the CCSA-Public Safety report, “Language matters. Speak about people first, with compassion and respect.”13
A stigma reduction strategy must be core to the activities of the federal government. Stigma involves thoughts, emotions and behaviours; thus, a comprehensive approach includes interventions to target each of these dimensions at both the individual and population level. The strategy should include aspects of:
* Public awareness and education to facilitate understanding about the importance of early diagnosis, treatment, recovery and prevention;
* Enhanced provider/student education and support;
* Policy analysis and modification of discriminatory legislation;
* Support for a strong voluntary sector to voice the concerns of patients and their families;
* Exposure to positive spokespeople (e.g. prominent Canadians) who have mental illness and/or addiction in order to highlight success stories;
* Researching stigma.
How can we best act to reduce stigma across the country?
Engagement with people who use drugs to help them share their stories and experiences with stigma with the public
What would you recommend to improve substance use treatment services in Canada?
This challenge requires a complex and multifaceted solution; and to further this aim, Canada needs a comprehensive national strategy to address the harms associated with psychoactive drugs in Canada, whether illegal or prescription-based, complementing existing strategies to address the harms associated with the other two legal drugs - alcohol and tobacco. This comprehensive approach is necessary, as isolated measures can have unintended consequences, such as under-medicating people that require a medical treatment or constraining people to seek illegal drugs as an option when medications are made tamper-resistant. One of the fundamental principles of health care is that it be patient centred.11 CMA defines patient-centred care as “seamless access to the continuum of care in a timely manner … that takes into consideration the individual needs and preferences of the patient and his/her family and treats the patient with respect and dignity.”
It is essential that patients be core members of the health care team, working with health care providers to address their individual needs, preferences and aspirations and to seek their personal paths to well-being. Physicians and other health professionals can help patients make choices about their treatment and can provide information and support to patients and their families as they seek to cope with the effects of problematic use and live functional lives. The health care provider community needs tools to assist in the reduction of stigma, access to resources and supportive environments.
What obstacles or barriers do people face when they want to access treatment in Canada?
Obstacles to treatment include the lack of publicly-funded treatment centres, access to locations for remote areas, limited number of beds available, the cost of private treatment (lack of insurance), and stigma. The CMA supports the enhancement of access to options for treatment that address different needs.12 Treatment programs must be coordinated and patient-centred, and address physical, psychological, social and spiritual circumstances. For example, it is important that treatment programs be culturally relevant for Indigenous communities.
In addition to current harm reduction initiatives – such as supervised consumption sites, needle exchange programs – what other harm reduction services should governments consider implementing in Canada?
There is a dire need to address harm reduction in prisons. Even back in 2005, the CMA recommended to the Correctional Service of Canada that it develop, implement and evaluate a pilot needle exchange program in prison(s) under its jurisdiction. These services are not widespread and accessible to prison populations. In Canada, people in prison face far greater risk of HIV and hepatitis C infection because they are denied access to sterile injection equipment as a harm reduction strategy.
Hospitals need to incorporate harm reduction strategies as well, allowing people who use drugs to access much needed health services.
How can we better bring public health and law enforcement together to explore ways to reduce the cycle of involvement for people who use substances with the criminal justice system?
Training for police and other frontline criminal justice and corrections workers in how to interact with people with substance use issues is essential. The CMA believes that the government must take a broad public health policy approach. Changes to the criminal law affecting cannabis must not promote normalization of its use and must be tied to a national drug strategy that promotes awareness and prevention and provides for comprehensive treatment.13
The CMA recognized that a blanket prohibition of possession for teenagers and young adults would not reflect current reality or a harm reduction approach. The possibility that a young person might incur a lifelong criminal record for periodic use or possession of small amounts of cannabis for personal use means that the long-term social and economic harms of cannabis use can be disproportionate to the drug's physiological harm.
What further steps can the federal government take to better address current regulation and enforcement priorities, such as addressing organized drug crime and the dangerous illegal drugs like fentanyl being brought into Canada?
The federal government must continue to work closely with the RCMP, local and provincial law enforcement agencies, Canada Post, the Canadian Border Services Agency, Crown attorneys, the Canadian military, and international health officials and law enforcement agencies to address this issue. This topic was covered in the recent CCSA/Public Safety Canada report.10
Recognizing Indigenous rights and self-determination, how can all governments work together to address the high rates of problematic substance use faced by some Indigenous communities?
Difficulties in access are particularly acute for Canada's Indigenous peoples. Many live in communities with limited access to health care services, sometimes having to travel hundreds of miles to access care. Additionally, there are jurisdictional challenges; many fall through the cracks between the provincial and federal health systems.
While geography is a significant barrier for Indigenous peoples, it is not the only one. Indigenous peoples living in Canada's urban centres also face difficulties. Poverty, social exclusion and discrimination can be barriers to needed health care. Of all federal spending on indigenous programs and services only 10% is allocated to urban Aboriginals. This means that Aboriginals living in urban areas are unable to access programs such as Aboriginal head start, or alcohol and drug services, which would be available if they were living on reserve. Further, even when care is available it may not be culturally appropriate.
Canada's indigenous peoples tend to be over-represented in populations most at risk and with the greatest need for care, making the lack of access a much greater issue for their health status. It is important that problematic substance use programs be culturally relevant for Indigenous communities.
It is clear that the First Nations and Inuit peoples of Canada experience mental illness, problematic substance use and poor mental health at rates exceeding that of other Canadians.11 Individual, community and population level factors contribute to this including socioeconomic status, social environment, child development, nutrition, maternal health, culture and access to health services. The urgent need to work with these communities and identify the structures and interventions to reduce the burden of mental illness and substance use is critical to the health and wellness and future of First Nations and Inuit peoples.
Enhanced federal capacity should be created through First Nations and Inuit Health that will provide increased funding and support for First Nations and Inuit community health strategies. The establishment of a working groups comprised of First Nations and Inuit health experts and accountable to First Nations and Inuit leadership is essential for the success of this initiative. Both expert and resource supports are integral elements to facilitate and encourage culturally appropriate strategies and programming in these communities.
What can we learn from Indigenous approaches to problematic substance use, such as using holistic approaches, that may help inform activities under the CDSS?
The federal government must consult First Nations, Inuit, and Métis representatives to develop programs that are culturally relevant and appropriate for Indigenous communities.
How can governments, and the health, social, and law enforcement sectors design more effective substance use policies and programs for at-risk populations?
The government must identify and consult those communities and populations most at risk. This includes First Nations, Inuit, and Métis representatives, community advocates, municipalities, and provincial and local public health officers. Data that describes rates of use and issues specific to each at risk group is important to be able to better understand and address needs.
What are effective policies and programs to help improve access to prevention, treatment, and harm reduction services for at-risk populations?
There are innovative approaches to address the needs of high-volume users as well as at-risk populations. As many of these involve greater integration between health and the community sector and attention to issues not traditionally funded through health care payment systems, there is a need to provide access to funds to enable these innovations to continue and be spread across the country.
A targeted, integrated approach to identify communities in need is required and this must be based on reliable community data (i.e., meaningful use of patient data) which can be used to integrate resources to improve health status. For example, the Canadian Primary Care Sentinel Surveillance Network (CPCSSN) is Canada's first multi-disease electronic medical records (EMR) surveillance and research system that allows family physicians, epidemiologists and researchers from across the country to better understand and manage chronic care conditions for their patients. Health information is collected from EMRs in the offices of participating primary care providers (e.g. family physicians) for the purposes of improving the quality of care for Canadians suffering from chronic and mental health conditions and three neurologic conditions including Alzheimer's and related dementias. CPCSSN makes it possible to securely collect and report on vital information from Canadians' health records to improve the way these chronic diseases and neurologic conditions are managed (http://cpcssn.ca/).
What urgent gaps related to substance use (in terms of data, surveillance, and/or research) need to be addressed in Canada?
Improvements are being made in the collection of data in Canada. This is crucial to be able to assess the harms and track the trends and impact of the introduction of policy changes.12 As well, the government must continue to improve the ability of the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Canadian Institute of Health Information, the chief coroners of Canada and related agencies to collect, analyze and report data.
One such program is the surveillance system in the United States called RADARS (Researched Abuse, Diversion and Addiction-Related Surveillance system) that is “a surveillance system that collects product-and geographically-specific data on abuse, misuse, and diversion of prescription drugs.” It surveys data involving opioids including poison control centres, treatment programs, on the “illicit acquisition or distribution of prescription opioids, stimulants, and other prescription drugs of interest from entities investigating drug diversion cases,” among other opioid-related issues.
The CMA has recommended that all levels of government work with one another and with health professional regulatory agencies to develop a pan-Canadian system of real-time prescription monitoring. As a first step, the CMA recommends the establishment of consistent national standards for prescription monitoring.
Prescription Monitoring Programs (PMP) should be compatible with existing electronic medical and pharmacy record systems and with provincial pharmaceutical databases. Participation in prescription monitoring programs should not impose an onerous administrative burden on health care providers. PMPs should not deter physicians from using controlled medications when necessary. Further, PMPs are a valuable component in addressing the gaps related to substance use.
How can we use research tools to better identify emerging substance use issues as early as possible?
See above response to question 18 - “RADARS”
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Radars System. 2018. Available: https://www.radars.org/. (accessed: 2018 Nov 29).
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Sproule B. Prescription Monitoring Programs in Canada: Best Practice and Program Review. Ottawa, ON, 2015 Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Available: http://www.ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/CCSA-Prescription-Monitoring-Programs-in-Canada-Report-2015-en.pdf (accessed 2018 Dec 4).
I am writing in response to your letter inviting comment on the discussion paper Strengthening the Pan-Canadian Public Health System distributed in February 2004. The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) welcomes the opportunity to participate in this consultation process on a national public health system. Our country’s experience combating SARS brought home to all of us the critical need for a strong and effective public health system to ensure that we are never again found unprepared to deal with the consequences of an emerging infectious disease. The commitments to establish a strong and effective public health system, a Canada Public Health Agency and a Chief Public Health Officer detailed in the February 2, 2004 Speech from the Throne have raised expectations across the land, and particularly within the public health community.
In June 2003 CMA detailed a Public Health Action Plan in its submission to the National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health (Naylor Committee). The CMA’s Plan was further elaborated in our October 2003 submission to the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology (Kirby Committee) hearing on public health governance and infrastructure. The CMA is also a founding member and active supporter of the Canadian Coalition for Public Health in the 21st Century. Both of the CMA submissions and the Coalition stress the need for strong leadership, capacity building and appropriate funding to ensure that Canada’s public health system is able to deal with the challenges ahead.
In this submission I will first focus on the responsibility and actions the federal government can take now to create a strong and effective public health system and then comment on issues raised in the Strengthening the Pan-Canadian Public Health System discussion paper.
The CMA believes that the country today has a rare opportunity to build a public health system for Canada that can take the best elements from the past while embracing new
innovative approaches to the future. But to achieve the Speech from the Throne commitment to “establish a strong and responsive public health system” strong leadership is needed now. The federal government has a critical role to play. In both the United Kingdom and the United States, national leadership has been instrumental in clearly defining health goals for the population and stating the role of the public health system, its key infrastructure elements and the development of strategies to attain them.
The CMA is pleased with your commitment and that of your government to the establishment of a Canada Public Health Agency (CPHA) but we can not stress strongly enough the need for you and your cabinet colleagues to take the bold steps needed to ensure that a national public health agency is truly independent. A CPHA that is not adequately funded and independent of the government bureaucracy will only result in a shuffling of the deck chairs.
A credible Chief Public Health Officer (CPHO) must be appointed to lead the Agency, be the federal government’s chief medical officer of health (CMOH) and the country's chief spokesperson for all public health issues.
The CPHA and the Chief Public Health Officer should have a central role in providing public health services to those areas falling under federal jurisdiction where local and provincial Chief Medical Officers of Health do not have access or authority. Airports, railways, military bases, aboriginal peoples living on reserve, federal meat packing plants and national parks are examples of areas under federal jurisdiction. The delivery of public health in these jurisdictions has been especially compromised by the lack of comprehensive coordination between provincial and federal systems. The federal CMOH should have all the powers and responsibilities of a provincial /territorial CMOH with respect to public health in federal jurisdictions.
While there is an urgent need for the federal government to address problems with the delivery of public health services within its own backyard, it also must enhance co-ordination within the various federal departments and agencies that address public health concerns.
In its submission to the National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health the CMA also called for federal leadership in times of national health emergencies. The enactment of a Canada Emergency Health Measures Act would enhance the federal government’s “command and control” powers in a measured way during times of national health emergencies. The Act would give the federal government specific authority to act for a pre-determined, temporary period of time, during a declared extraordinary health emergency. It would also provide the authority for development of a graduated health alert system with corresponding public health interventions to enable a rapid co-ordinated response as a public health threat emerges.1 A systematic approach to health emergencies outlining roles, responsibilities and authority of jurisdictions would go a long way to avoiding the chaos and confusion that surrounded the country’s emergency response to SARS.
The public health infrastructure is the foundation that supports the planning, delivery and evaluation of public health activities. In 2001, a working group of the Federal, Provincial and Territorial (F/P/T) Advisory Committee on Population Health assessed the capacity of the public health system through a series of key informant interviews and literature reviews. The consistent finding was that public health had experienced a loss of resources and there was concern for the resiliency of the system infrastructure to respond consistently and proactively to the demands placed on it.
It is essential that the federal government work with the provinces/ territories and municipalities to stop the hemorrhaging in public health across the country. We must stabilize and shore up the core public health capacity at the municipal, and provincial/territorial levels. At the federal level, in the short term, we must sustain our current capacity to tackle critical public health issues. The recent focus on infectious disease must not lead us to take monies from chronic disease prevention and health promotion to bolster efforts to manage outbreaks of infectious disease. Robbing Peter to pay Paul will only compound and exacerbate the challenges facing the public health system. All of the essential functions of public health must be recognized and resourced within a coherent public health strategy.
This will require an investment of at least $1.5 billion over the next five years, beginning with an immediate commitment of $200 million in the upcoming budget. There is also a critical need for additional resources to reach the frontline public health workers in the many local agencies across Canada. In this regard, on March 12, 2004 the CMA, the Canadian Nurses Association, Canadian Pharmacists Association and the Canadian Healthcare Association wrote to the Prime Minister urging him to consider adding the recent one-time $2 billion transfer into the Canada Health Transfer (CHT) funding base and ear-mark 10% of this amount for public health action.
The infusion of $1.5 billion over the next five years would go a long way to provide federal, provincial/territorial and municipal governments with the tools needed to rebuild capacity in the public health system. An area needing immediate attention is human resource capacity. For the essential functions of the public health system to be realized, we need a public health workforce with appropriate and constantly updated skills. Unfortunately that workforce is extremely thin today. We need to invest in additional training capacity in all of the public health disciplines. CMA has proposed an investment of $50 million in 2004/05 to begin to strategically rebuild human resource capacity.
To provide additional surge capacity CMA has further proposed the establishment of a Canadian public health emergency response service or Canadian Health Corps. The service would be made up of a core group of highly trained and mobile public health professionals, employed by the federal government, to be directed by the Chief Public Health Officer. A complementary ‘reserve pool’ or volunteer relief network would be made up of acute health care and public health professionals willing to be deployed anywhere in Canada on short notice to provide services during health emergencies. A predetermined and pre-licensed pool of professionals that can respond to a call to action in times of crisis is a critical resource that must be established before we are faced with another emergency situation.
Canadians expect the federal government to assume its responsibility to provide national leadership in public health. Visionary leadership, investment and capacity building are essential components of a reinvigorated public health system. It is within this context that CMA has reviewed the Strengthening the pan-Canadian public health system discussion paper.
Strengthening the pan-Canadian public health system
The discussion paper Strengthening the Pan-Canadian Public Health System unfortunately positions the planning assumptions for a national public health strategy within the traditional F/P/T process. While we are encouraged with the commitment of the F/P/T Ministers of Health to work collaboratively on the creation of a Pan-Canadian Public Health Network, it is not what Canadians or CMA envisioned in terms of providing leadership on the development of a national public health strategy and a consistent and co-ordinated approach to health emergencies.
The discussion paper is proposing that a CPHA be the centralized responsibility centre or ‘co-ordinating node’ of a Pan-Canadian Public Health Network that would develop national public health strategies and co-ordinate responses to public health emergencies. While the Network is necessary to facilitate intergovernmental co-operation, CMA believes that it is now time to move beyond traditional processes that, in the past, have often hindered the country’s ability to respond rapidly to address pan-Canadian problems.
Therefore in its briefs to both the Naylor and Kirby Committees, the CMA proposed the creation of an independent CPHA to provide leadership and comprehensive public health expertise in the development of a strategic pan Canadian approach to public health planning and services. These CMA briefs speak to many of the issues pertaining to the CPHA and CPHO that are raised in the federal discussion paper. CMA proposals for a CPHA as outlined below address the questions of mission and mandate, accountability and transparency posed by the paper.
The CPHA, as described by CMA, would become the lead national agency on public health matters with a broad mandate to co-ordinate all aspects of planning for national public health emergencies, provide ongoing national health surveillance and work closely with provinces/territories to reinforce other essential public health functions. To effectively carry out its mandate the CPHA structure must respect five guiding principles. It must be:
* Independent – At arm’s length from government, insulated from day-to-day vagaries of political pressures while remaining accountable to Canadians.
* Science-based – Adherence to the highest standards of risk assessment and decision-making with a view to safeguarding the health of Canadians.
* Transparent – Open to public scrutiny and encouraging public participation in its activities.
* Responsive – Characterized by a nimble decision-making process and a capability of deploying resources and expertise quickly and efficiently to any part of the country.
* Collaborative – Partnership-oriented, fostering collaboration with other federal, provincial and non-governmental partners.
CMA has recommended that the CPHA be established as an arms length, adequately resourced agency within the purview of the federal government. Under this approach, the CPHA would be structured on a corporate model in which decision-making powers are vested in an expert advisory board. The board, in turn, would be accountable to Parliament and the public for the exercise of these powers. The CPHA would be created through new federal legislation but would remain under the health portfolio, with accountability to Parliament through the health minister. The chief public health officer would head the CPHA, oversee the day-to-day operation of the office, be the federal government’s chief medical officer of health, and act as the lead scientific voice for public health in Canada.
This structure would mark a departure from the status quo in that the level of professional autonomy would increase and the level of ministerial involvement in professional issues would be reduced. This would contribute to making the CPHA more credible as a science-based organization. The board governance structure would encourage participation from the broader public health community and could therefore be more effective in creating partnerships with other key players.
The CMA commends you and the federal and provincial/territorial governments for the evident commitment to address the public health challenges facing this nation. It is unfortunate that it took a public health tragedy to bring this commitment to the forefront but never the less the public health community in Canada stands ready to work with governments to achieve a strong and responsive public health system.
As part of that community the medical profession is ready and willing to support initiatives that will improve public health programs and services that ultimately make
Canada a safer and healthier place to live. We do not support a continuation of the status quo. We must seize this opportunity to create a public health system that that can take the best elements from the past while embracing new innovative approaches to the future.
Sunil V. Patel, MB, ChB
1 Answering the Wake-Up Call: Canada’s Public Health Action Plan, June 2003. Available: http://www.cma.ca/cma/menu/displayMenu.do?tab=422&skin=432&pMenuId=1&pSubMenuId=2&pageId=/staticContent/HTML/N0/l2/where_we_stand/political/index.htm