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Climate Change and Human Health

https://policybase.cma.ca/en/permalink/policy9809
Last Reviewed
2018-03-03
Date
2010-06-09
Topics
Population health/ health equity/ public health
  1 document  
Policy Type
Policy document
Last Reviewed
2018-03-03
Date
2010-06-09
Topics
Population health/ health equity/ public health
Text
Climate Change and Human Health Background Climate change is increasingly recognized as a significant threat facing society and has the potential to be one of the greatest threats to human health in the 21st Century1. While the damage is being done now, many of the health effects may arise only decades in the future2. Possible impacts could include some or all of the following: * Increased mortality, disease and injuries from heat waves and other extreme weather events; * Continued change in the range of some infectious disease vectors (i.e. 260-320 million more cases of malaria predicted by 2080, with six billion more at risk for dengue fever); * Effects on food yields- increased malnutrition; * Increased flooding in some areas and increased droughts in others, along with other impacts on freshwater supply; * Increases in foodborne and waterborne illnesses; * Warming and rising sea levels adding to displacement and also impacting water supply through salination; * Impaired functioning of ecosystems; * Negative effects on air quality associated with ground level ozone, including increases in cardio-respiratory morbidity and mortality, asthma, and allergens; * Displacement of vulnerable populations (especially in coastal areas)1; and * Loss of livelihoods3. Most of the impacts of climate change will result from amplifying the existing health hazards found in populations4. How susceptible a population is to the effects of climate change is dependent on their existing vulnerabilities (i.e. disease burden, resources etc.) as well as their adaptive capacity5. The World Health Organization has projected that countries that have, and will likely continue to suffer the greatest effects, are those who have contributed the smallest amount to the causes of climate change.6 While the vast majority of climate change deaths will occur in developing countries with systemic vulnerabilities, a recent Health Canada report has noted that Canada is likely to experience higher rates of warming in this century than most other countries in the world. Climate change scenarios predict an increased risk of extreme weather and other climate events for all regions of Canada, with the exception of extreme cold7. Canadians most vulnerable to climate change include seniors, children and infants, socially disadvantaged individuals, and those with pre-existing medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease8. Those living in cities could be especially vulnerable due to the impact of the heat island effect. However, given their greater access to emergency, health, social, and financial resources, they might also have the greatest adaptive capacity9. The health consequences of climate change have the potential to be more severe in far northern regions. Populations in Canada's north including aboriginals have already begun to see differences in their hunting practices as a result of changing ice patterns10, and the melting of permanent snowpacks11. Changes in ice patterns have also led to increased injuries12. In some places in the North, climate changes have led to greater risks from avalanches, landslides and other hazards13. Further problems are related to the infrastructure in Northern Canada, with some communities already noticing degradation of structures due to the thawing of the permafrost14. Given that much of the Northern infrastructure is already in disrepair, this represents a considerable problem. Geographic isolation, and a lack of resources may further exacerbate the situation15. What CMA has done? Physicians have a critical role to play in advancing public understanding of the potential impact of climate change on health and promoting health protecting responses. The CMA has been working on the issue of climate change and human health for a number of years. CMA was supportive of Canada's ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, and urged the Government of Canada to commit to choosing a climate change strategy that satisfied Canada's international commitments while also maximizing the clean air co-benefits and smog-reduction potential of any greenhouse gas reduction initiatives. In 2007, a number of resolutions were passed at General Council calling on government to properly plan for the health impacts of climate change and put in place measures to mitigate the impact of climate change on vulnerable populations in Canada's north. In that same year, CMA and the Canadian Nurses Association updated a joint position statement first entered into in 1994 calling for environmentally responsible activity in the health-care sector. Most recently, the CMA has been an integral part of the drafting of the World Medical Association (WMA) policies on health and climate change. The WMA Declaration of Delhi on Health and Climate Change was adopted at its annual General Assembly in New Delhi, India in October 2009, The declaration calls for action in five main areas; advocacy to combat global warming; leadership-help people be healthy enough to adapt to climate change; education and capacity building; surveillance and research; and collaboration to prepare for climate emergencies. This policy is written to complement the WMA declaration. What needs to be done? Climate change may lead to significant impacts on human health. While it is unlikely that these outcomes can be avoided, there are some strategies that can be employed to help limit the negative consequences. Education and Capacity Building There is a need for greater public and health professional awareness and education about climate change in order to gain understanding of the health consequences and support for strategies to reduce green house gases and mitigate climate change effects. CMA recommends: 1. A national public awareness program on the importance of the environment and global climate change to personal health; 2. Encouraging health sciences schools to enhance their provision of educational programs on environmental health; and fostering the development of continuing education modules on environmental health and environmental health practices. Surveillance and Research There are important gaps in our knowledge on the health impacts of climate change as well as the effectiveness of various mitigation and adaptation strategies. Surveillance and reporting functions need to be strengthened to allow for greater accuracy in modeling of future impacts. CMA recommends: 3. That the federal government must address the gaps in research regarding climate change and health by undertaking studies to - quantify and model the burden of disease that will be caused by global climate change - identify the most vulnerable populations, the particular health impacts of climate change on vulnerable populations, and possible new protections for such populations; - increase the collection and accuracy of health data, particularly for vulnerable and underserved populations; - report diseases that emerge in conjunction with global climate change, and participate in field investigations, as with outbreaks of infectious diseases; and - develop and expand surveillance systems to include diseases caused by global climate change. Reducing the Burden of Disease to Mitigate Climate Change Impacts How susceptible a population is to the effects of climate change is dependent on their existing vulnerabilities. Therefore, work needs to be done to reduce the burden of diseases and improve upon the social determinants of health for vulnerable populations in Canada and globally. CMA recommends: 4. That the federal and provincial/territorial governments work together to improve the ability of the public to adapt to climate change and catastrophic weather events by - Encouraging behaviours that improve overall health, - Creating targeted programs designed to address specific exposures, - Providing health promotion information and education on self-management of the symptoms of climate-associated illness, - Ensuring physical infrastructure that allows for adaptation; 5. That the federal government develop concrete actions to reduce the health impact of climate-related emissions, in particular those initiatives which will also improve the general health of the population; 6. That the federal government support the Millennium Development Goals and support the principles outlined in the WHO Commission on the Social Determinants of Health report; and Preparing for Climate Emergencies To deal with the future burden of climate change related health issues there is a need to ensure adequate health capacity and infrastructure. Rebuilding of public health capacity globally is seen as the most important, cost-effective, and urgently needed response to climate change16. Domestically, there is a need to ensure adequate surge capacity within the health care system to be prepared for an increase in illness related to climate change effects. There is also a need to strengthen not only the health systems, but the infrastructure (i.e. housing) for vulnerable populations including Aboriginals and those in the North. CMA recommends that the federal and provincial /territorial governments work together to: 7. Strengthen the public health system both domestically and internationally in order to improve the capacity of communities to adapt to climate change; 8. Ensure adequate surge capacity within Canada's health system to handle the increase in climate change related illness; 9. Ensure the health of vulnerable populations is adequate to handle climate change related situations; 10. Develop knowledge about the best ways to adapt to and mitigate the health effects of climate change; 11. Integrate health professionals into the emergency preparedness plans of government and public health authorities so that front-line providers are adequately informed and prepared to properly manage any health emergencies. Advocacy to Combat Climate Change Finally, there is a need to take action to reduce the damaging effects of climate change. The global community needs to come together to reduce the levels of green house gases being released in the atmosphere, and focus on safer more environmentally friendly energy sources. Investments in cuts to greenhouse gas emissions would greatly outweigh their costs, and could help to reduce the future burden of climate change related illness17. CMA recommends: 12. That the government of Canada become a global leader in promoting equitable, carbon neutral economic, industrial, and social policies, and practices that fight global warming and adopt specific green house gas reduction targets as determined by the evolving science of climate change. 13. That health care professionals act within their professional settings to reduce the environmental impact of medical activities and to develop environmentally sustainable professional settings; 14. That all Canadians act to minimize individual impacts on the environment, and encourage others to do so, as well. Conclusions The CMA believes that Canada must prepare now for the potential health threat that climate change poses to its population. While many of these effects will take decades to materialize, certain populations, such as those in Canada's north, or those in low lying coastal areas, are already starting to experience the impact of climate change. A focus on education and health promotion, as well as advocacy for improved public policy and primary health care resources will be a good start in dealing with this issue. Additionally, further research and data collection is necessary to improve our understanding of climate change and the effectiveness of adaptation and mitigation strategies. Finally, the global community needs to act together to address the health and environmental impacts of climate change. By working together, in an international response, strategies can be implemented to mitigate any negative health effects of climate change. Canada's physicians believe that: What is good for the environment is also good for human health. It is past time for those of us in the health sector in Canada to engage fully in the debate and discussions within our own house, as well as in the broader body politic to ensure that protecting human health is the bottom line of environmental and climate change strategies. Bibliography 1 Currently a third of the world's population lives within 60 miles of the shoreline and 13 of 20 biggest world cities located on the coast- more than a billion people could be displaced (Costello et.al., 2009) 1 Costello, Anthony et.al. "Managing the health effects of climate change.' The Lancet Volume 373 May 16, 2009. pp.1693-1733. 2 World Health Organization, World Meteorological Organization & United Nations Environment Programme (2003) Climate Change and Human Health- Risks and Responses, Summary. Available at: http://www.who.int/globalchange/climate/en/ccSCREEN.pdf 3 Confalonieri et.al., (2007) Human Health. Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Available at: http://www1.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/wg2/ar4-wg2-chapter8.pdf ; Epstein, Paul R. "Climate Change and Human Health." The New England Journal of Medicine 353 (14) October 6, 2005.; Friel, Sharon; Marmot, Michael; McMichael, Anthony J.; Kjellstrom, Tord & Denny Vagero. "Global health equity and climate stabilization: a common agenda." The Lancet Volume 372 November 8, 2008. pp.1677-1683. 4Confalonieri et.al., (2007) Human Health. Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Available at: http://www1.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/wg2/ar4-wg2-chapter8.pdf; World Health Organization (2009) Protecting Health From Climate Change: Global research priorities. Available at: http://whqlibdoc.who.int/publications/2009/9789241598187_eng.pdf 5 Health Canada (2001) Climate Change and Health & Well-being: A Policy Primer Available at: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ewh-semt/pubs/climat/policy_primer-abecedaire_en_matiere/index-eng.php 6 Campbell-Lendrum, Diarmid; Corvalan, Carlos & Maria Neira "Global climate change: implications for international public health policy." Bulletin of the World Health Organization. March 2007, 85 (3) pp.235-237 7 Seguin, Jacinthe & Peter Berry (2008) "Human Health in a Changing Climate: A Canadian Assessment of Vulnerabilities and Adaptive Capacity, Synthesis Report." Health Canada Available at: http://www.nbhub.org/hubfiles/pdf/HealthinChangingClimate_Synthesis_english_low.pdf 8 Health Canada (2002) Climate Change And Health & Well-Being: A Policy Primer for Canada's North. Available at: http://dsp-psd.pwgsc.gc.ca/Collection/H46-2-02-290E.pdf 9 Seguin, Jacinthe & Peter Berry (2008) "Human Health in a Changing Climate: A Canadian Assessment of Vulnerabilities and Adaptive Capacity, Synthesis Report." Health Canada Available at: http://www.nbhub.org/hubfiles/pdf/HealthinChangingClimate_Synthesis_english_low.pdf 10 Ibid 11 Health Canada (2002) Climate Change And Health & Well-Being: A Policy Primer for Canada's North. Available at: http://dsp-psd.pwgsc.gc.ca/Collection/H46-2-02-290E.pdf 12 Epstein, Paul R. "Climate Change and Human Health." The New England Journal of Medicine 353 (14) October 6, 2005. 13 Seguin, Jacinthe & Peter Berry (2008) "Human Health in a Changing Climate: A Canadian Assessment of Vulnerabilities and Adaptive Capacity, Synthesis Report." Health Canada Available at: http://www.nbhub.org/hubfiles/pdf/HealthinChangingClimate_Synthesis_english_low.pdf 14 Field, Christopher B. et.al. (2007) North America. Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Available at: http://www1.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/wg2/ar4-wg2-chapter14.pdf 15 Health Canada (2002) Climate Change And Health & Well-Being: A Policy Primer for Canada's North. Available at: http://dsp-psd.pwgsc.gc.ca/Collection/H46-2-02-290E.pdf 16 World Health Organization, World Meteorological Organization & United Nations Environment Programme (2003) Climate Change and Human Health- Risks and Responses, Summary. Available at: http://www.who.int/globalchange/climate/en/ccSCREEN.pdf 17 Campbell-Lendrum, Diarmid; Corvalan, Carlos & Maria Neira "Global climate change: implications for international public health policy." Bulletin of the World Health Organization. March 2007, 85 (3) pp.235-237
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The health of Aboriginal peoples 2002

https://policybase.cma.ca/en/permalink/policy163
Last Reviewed
2019-03-03
Date
2002-12-07
Topics
Population health/ health equity/ public health
  1 document  
Policy Type
Policy document
Last Reviewed
2019-03-03
Date
2002-12-07
Topics
Population health/ health equity/ public health
Text
HEALTH OF ABORIGINAL PEOPLES 2002 A CMA Policy Statement Recommendation #1 That the federal government adopt a comprehensive strategy for improving the health of Aboriginal peoples that involves a partnership among governments, non-governmental organizations, universities and the Aboriginal communities. 2) The Need to Address Health Determinants The health status of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples is a result of a broad range of factors: social, biological, economic, political, educational and environmental. The complexity and interdependence of these health determinants suggest that the health status of Aboriginal peoples is unlikely to be improved significantly by increasing the quantity of health services. Instead, inequities within a wide range of social and economic factors should be addressed; for example: income education employment interactions with the justice system racism and social marginalization environmental hazards water supply and waste disposal housing quality and infrastructure cultural identity, (for example, long-term effects of the residential school legacy.) Recommendation #2 That all stakeholders work to improve provision for the essential needs of Aboriginal peoples and communities that affect their health (e.g. housing, employment, education, water supply). 3) The Importance of Self-Determination One characteristic of successful Aboriginal communities is a high degree of self-efficacy and control over their own circumstances. This empowerment can take many forms, from developing community-driven health initiatives to determining how to use lands. It is increasingly recognized that self-determination in cultural, social, political and economic life improves the health of Aboriginal peoples and their communities, and that Aboriginal peoples can best determine their requirements and the solutions to their problems. Therefore, the CMA encourages and supports the Aboriginal peoples in their move toward increasing self-determination and community control. A just and timely settlement of land claims is one means by which Aboriginal communities can achieve this self-determination and self-sufficiency. Recommendation #3 That governments and other stakeholders: Settle land claims and land use issues expeditiously; Work toward resolving issues of self-determination for Aboriginal peoples and their communities in areas of cultural, social, political and economic life. 4) Community Control of Health Services Control by Aboriginal peoples of health and social services is increasing across Canada as part of a broader transfer of control of political power, resources and lands. This transfer has not progressed at the same pace across all Aboriginal communities; the needs of Urban Aboriginal peoples, for example, are only beginning to be addressed. CMA supports the development of community-driven models for delivery of health care and health promotion, responsive to the culture and needs of individual communities. Successful community-driven models of health care delivery generally recognize that the Aboriginal concept of health is holistic in nature, incorporating mental, emotional and spiritual as well as physical components. Translating this concept into practice may involve: Development of primary care models that are grounded within Aboriginal culture at a local level; Integration of disease treatment services with health promotion and health education programs, and with traditional healing practices; Integration of health and social services; Interprofessional collaboration within a multi-disciplinary team. CMA also supports programs to increase the involvement of Aboriginal peoples in professional and other decision-making roles affecting the health of their community – for example, increased representation in health-care management positions, and on health facility boards where there is a significant Aboriginal population. Recommendation #4 That all stakeholders actively encourage the development of integrated, holistic primary care service delivery relevant to the needs and culture of Aboriginal communities and under community control. 5) Cultural Responsiveness in the Patient/Physician Relationship As mentioned above, the concept of “health” in Aboriginal culture is holistic and incorporates many components. The concepts of continuity, wholeness and balance within and among people are important to Aboriginal culture, as is a close affinity with the natural environment – both in practical and spiritual senses , which emphasises the importance of stewardship of the land as a component of individual and community health maintenance for present and future generations. Physicians should work in collaboration with Aboriginal peoples and groups to promote a greater understanding and acceptance of their respective philosophies and approaches. This could include: an openness and respect for traditional medicine and traditional healing practices (e.g. sweat lodges, herbal medicines, healing circles). This should be balanced with a recognition that not all Aboriginal people, whether First Nation, Métis or Inuit, adhere to or understand their traditional ceremonial practices. improved cross-cultural awareness in physicians, which could be facilitated by greater contact with their local Aboriginal communities, better understanding of local Aboriginal cultures, history and current setting, development of cross-cultural patient-physician communication skills. Recommendation #5 a) That educational initiatives in cross-cultural awareness of Aboriginal health issues be developed for the Canadian population, and in particular for health care providers, b) that practice tools and resources be developed to support physicians (Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal) and other health care professionals practicing in Aboriginal communities. 6) Access to Health Services Canada is often considered to have one of the best health care systems in the world and is typically described as providing “universal access”. However, our system does not provide equal access to services for all people living in Canada – the most underserviced being those in northern Canada, which contains many Aboriginal communities. Several kinds of access problems exist in Aboriginal communities: Lack of access to employment, adequate housing, nutritious food, clean water and other social or economic determinants of health. Factors that impede access to health care services, particularly in remote locations; for example, language and cultural differences, and the difficulty of transporting patients to tertiary centres. Lack of specific services (for example, mental health services) for Aboriginal peoples in many regions of Canada. Specific groups, such as women and the elderly, have unique and distinct needs that should be addressed. Program delivery that involves multiple federal, provincial and municipal funding agencies. Physicians and patients alike have trouble obtaining information about and entry into existing programs and funding for new programs because of jurisdictional confusion. CMA has previously recommended that the Canadian health system develop and apply agreed-upon standards for timely access to care. This includes the need to increase timely and appropriate access by Aboriginal peoples to health care and health promotion services, geared to different segments of the population according to their needs. Recommendation #6 a) That governments and other stakeholders simplify and clarify jurisdictional responsibilities with respect to Aboriginal health at the federal, provincial and municipal level, with a goal of simplifying access to service delivery. b) That strategies be explored to increase access to health services by remote communities; for example, through the use of technology (e.g. Web sites, telemedicine) to connect them with academic medical centres. 7) Health Human Resources There is an urgent need to increase the training, recruitment and retention of Aboriginal health care providers. The 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples recommended that a cadre of 10,000 Aboriginal health care and social service workers be trained to meet the needs of a complex and diverse community. While progress has been made in recent years, an intensive focus on recruitment, training and retention is required in order to achieve this goal. A comprehensive health human resource strategy should be developed, to increase the recruitment, training and retention of Aboriginal students in medicine and other health disciplines. Such a strategy could include: Outreach programs to interest Aboriginal young people in the health sciences. Access and support programs for Aboriginal medical students. Residency positions for recently graduated Aboriginal physicians or physicians wishing to practice in Aboriginal populations, including re-entry positions for physicians currently in practice. Mentoring and leadership-development programs for Aboriginal medical students, residents and physicians. Programs to counter racism and discrimination in the health-care system. Initiatives to recruit and train Community Health Representatives/ Workers, birth attendants and other para-professionals within Aboriginal communities. Recommendation #7 a) That CMA and others work to develop a health human resource strategy aimed at improving the recruitment, training, retention of Aboriginal physicians and other health-care workers; b) That medical and other health faculties increase access and support programs to encourage enrollment of Aboriginal students. 8) Health Information Information about the health status and health care experience of Aboriginal peoples, is essential for future planning and advocacy. For Aboriginal peoples to effectively develop self-determination in health care delivery, they should have access to data that can be converted into useful information on their population. The “OCAP” principle (ownership, control, access to and possession of health data) is seen as integral to First Nation community empowerment, but may prove acceptable to other Aboriginal groups as well. A considerable amount of data currently exists, though there are gaps in coverage, particularly regarding Métis, Inuit and urban and rural off-reserve First Nations populations. This data can come from a variety of federal and provincial/territorial sources, including periodic surveys, federal censuses, Aboriginal Peoples Survey data holdings, and also regional physician and hospital utilization statistics. However, jurisdictional and ownership issues have hindered Aboriginal people from accessing and making use of this data. CMA supports the development and maintenance of mechanisms to systematically collect and analyze longitudinal health information for Aboriginal people, and the removal of barriers that prevent Aboriginal organizations from fully accessing information in government databases. Aboriginal health information should be subject to guarantees of privacy and confidentiality. The CMA urges relevant government departments to ensure that revisions to the Indian Act do not infringe on the privacy of health information of Aboriginal peoples in Canada. Recommendation #8 That the Government of Canada support the First Nations and Inuit Regional Longitudinal Health Survey Process, and the First Nations and Inuit Health Information System, and parallel interests for the Métis and Inuit. These programs should be operated under the control of their respective Aboriginal communities 9) Research The CMA supports culturally relevant research into the determinants of Aboriginal health and effective treatment and health-promotion strategies to address them. Specifically, the CMA supports the efforts of the Institute of Aboriginal Peoples’ Health at the Canadian Institute for Health Research, in addressing the needs of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples. Aboriginal peoples should be involved in research design, data collection and analysis; research should support the communities as they build capacity and develop initiatives to address their health needs. Ideally, research should address not only determinants of ill health but also the reasons for positive health outcomes. The CMA also acknowledges the need to communicate research results to Aboriginal communities to help them develop and evaluate health programs. In particular there is an urgent need among Aboriginal communities for the sharing of successes. Recommendation #9 That government and other stakeholders Support Aboriginal peoples and communities in the development of Aboriginal research and the means of interpreting its findings. Make public communication of health research results a priority in order to facilitate its use by Aboriginal communities. CMA’S CONTINUED COMMITMENT The Canadian Medical Association, consistent with its mandate to advocate for the highest standards of health and health care in Canada, will continue to work with the Aboriginal community and other stakeholders on activities addressing the following issue areas: Workforce Enhancement: Research and Practice Enhancement:. Public and Community Health Programming:. Leadership Development:. Advocacy for healthy public policy. Page 5 November 15, 2002
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Lessons from the frontlines: A collaborative report on Pandemic H1N1

https://policybase.cma.ca/en/permalink/policy9840
Last Reviewed
2018-03-03
Date
2010-08-26
Topics
Population health/ health equity/ public health
  1 document  
Policy Type
Policy document
Last Reviewed
2018-03-03
Date
2010-08-26
Topics
Population health/ health equity/ public health
Text
Lessons from the frontlines: A report on Pandemic H1N1 from Canadian Medical Association, The College of Family Physicians of Canada, National Specialty Society for Community Medicine One year ago, a novel influenza virus claimed its first victim in Mexico, and soon the world was plunged into its first influenza pandemic in 40 years. Although pandemic H1N1 (pH1N1) swept across the globe, we were fortunate this time as the virus was far less virulent than first feared. Now that pH1N1 has peaked and faded, it is time to look at what we learned and how it will help us plan for the next national public health emergency. The College of Family Physicians of Canada, the National Specialty Society for Community Medicine and the Canadian Medical Association have joined together to present a picture of lessons learned from the front lines of the pandemic. Together we represent over 80,000 physicians, of whom almost 50,000 are family physicians, engaged in all aspects of Canada's health care and public health systems. Canada's experience with SARS in 2003 was a "wake-up call"; much changed in its aftermath. The creation of the Public Health Agency of Canada led by a chief public health officer and the Pan-Canadian Public Health Network increased Canada's ability to respond to a public health emergency like pH1N1. The Canadian Pandemic Influenza Plan for the Health Sector, as well as complementary provincial and territorial plans, provides a framework and approach to responding to a pandemic. In many ways, this planning paid off. Canada mobilized quickly in response to the pH1N1 threat. Morbidity and mortality were lower than feared, and 45% of the population was vaccinated. But this response can also be seen as a "dress rehearsal" for a more severe influenza pandemic or some other national public health emergency: a test of our plans and an opportunity to learn from experience, with the time to incorporate these lessons into our strategic planning. Those on the front lines of response understand how health emergencies test our entire system - public health, acute and primary care and the community-based family physician. The success of our response depends on planning and practice, the effectiveness of public health and clinical countermeasures, our health human resources, the surge capacity within our health care and public health systems and our ability to reach the public. One of our greatest challenges in Canada is also to establish a coherent national and provincial/territorial strategy that can be implemented at a local level. Although we believe that Canada's overall response to pH1N1 produced many success stories, there were circumstances that challenged us as health professionals. Both health care and public health need further strengthening, and their separate infrastructures and the interdependence between these structures need attention and bolstering. The following comments focus on two overarching areas that influenced our ability to respond to the pandemic: communications and health system integration. Communications Communication was a consistent source of concern. Channels of communication among the various levels of public health providers were stronger than those for primary care providers, especially family physicians. On 9 Aug. 2009, following the first wave of pH1N1, our leaders wrote to chief public health officer of Canada Dr. David Butler-Jones on behalf of our members to share their thoughts and recommendations on how to improve communications with physicians. Family physicians in particular, but also other front-line health care providers, needed communication that was tailored to the practice setting, resources that were easy to access, and clear messages written in a manner that allowed rapid implementation into clinical practice during health emergencies because the timing of clinical response was critical. We recommended that front-line clinical practitioners be involved in the development of guidelines and the strategies for their dissemination, so that the content could be linked directly to the clinical setting. Family physicians are part of our first line of defence during infectious disease outbreaks. To ensure optimum patient care, they need clinical guidance quickly. Many physicians felt that the urgent need to provide consistent, clinically relevant information was not well recognized by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), the Public Health Network and, in some cases, provincial, territorial, regional or local levels. It took three months after recognition of the emerging pandemic to publish Interim Guidance for Ambulatory Care of Influenza-like Illness in the Context of H1N1. The current Public Health Network process of federal/provincial/territorial (FPT) consultation and consensus building seemed ill-suited to the acute national need for clinical information on issues such as the use and prescription of anti-viral medications. As provincial authorities and professional medical organizations moved to fill the void, different approaches and recommendations arose independent from one another. Better integration of primary care response by a national organization such as PHAC and the provincial/territorial health ministries could address the needs of clinical practitioners in concert with public health responses. This would also ensure that care directives are translated into user-friendly formats appropriate to clinical settings. We were pleased to be able to work with PHAC in fall 2009 to produce Pandemic H1N1: Fast Facts for Front-line Clinicians. This resource was highly valued by many of our members, and the collaboration demonstrated how health organizations can work effectively with government to contribute their expertise to the development and distribution of appropriate, clinically relevant information. Nevertheless, our critics declared that it was too little, too late. In situations where scientific evidence is rapidly changing, the processes used to distribute information to both front-line public health and clinical professionals must be designed to avoid confusion. Coordinated, unified communication strategies are needed at the national, provincial/territorial and local levels. Regardless of the official source, the information must be consistent. During the pandemic, many physicians and public health workers complained that multiple levels of government provided similar, but not the same advice. The differences led to skepticism, and the inundation of messages led to overload. The bottom line is that clinically relevant and trustworthy information should be provided on a timely basis, even if levels of certainty are fluctuating. Jurisdictions with effective communication to the primary care sector were characterized by cooperation and consultation between the medical community and the provincial, territorial and regional health authorities, both before and during the crisis. We recommend: 1. That the Public Health Agency of Canada, with the provinces and territories, evaluate the effectiveness of pH1N1 communications between public health and physicians and other front-line primary health care providers, and use the finding of this evaluation to research options for future response to a public health crisis. 2. That federal, provincial/territorial public health authorities and health care professionals and their associations work together in the inter-pandemic period to develop a pan-Canadian communication strategy to be used during health emergencies. 3. The establishment of a pan-Canadian centre within the Public Health Agency of Canada - similar to the Centre for Effective Practice - to undertake timely knowledge translation of clinical management guidelines for clinicians during public health crises. Surveillance and electronic communications The national response to infectious disease would have been greatly facilitated if system-wide communicable disease surveillance had been in place to support the sharing of data between public health and the rest of the health care system, particularly at the regional and local levels of pandemic response. Clinicians' practices are highly influenced by illness patterns that develop regionally and locally within their practice populations; thus, surveillance data are useful in determining appropriate treatment. Real-time data were not available to most physicians and when data did become available, they were already several weeks old. Delayed clinical guidelines were not a suitable substitute for timely surveillance information. Expansion of the use of electronic medical records (EMRs) in primary care, with bi-directional links to public health electronic health records (EHRs), could have facilitated surveillance and communications. Family practice clinics with EMRs were able to quickly identify high-risk patients, communicate with them to schedule vaccination appointments and collect the required data for public health. The varied levels of success of public pH1N1 vaccination clinics were further proof of the need to move to standard use of EMRs and EHRs in the health system. Communications can be enhanced through the sharing of data between the public health and primary care systems. EMRs may help resolve the challenge of collecting data from primary care sites. Collaboration among the PHAC, the Canadian Medical Association and the Information Technology Association of Canada's Health Division led to development of a pilot project to demonstrate the use of primary care EMRs as real-time sentinel surveillance tools for public health action to supplement existing surveillance mechanisms. In addition, after a successful two-year pilot project, the College of Family Physicians of Canada is working with the PHAC, in association with the Canadian Institute for Health Information, to conduct surveillance for five chronic diseases using EMRs, local networks across Canada and a national central repository for standardized data. These studies represent the increasingly important role of electronic information in surveillance and the value of collaboration between public health and primary care. We recommend: 4. That the federal and provincial/territorial governments provide EMR funding to enable clinical care and public health authorities to build interconnectedness and allow real-time information collection and analysis. System issues FPT responsibilities The division of responsibility between federal and provincial/territorial authorities for health care and emergency response influences how we respond to public health emergencies. Provincial/territorial governments have a primary role to play in regulating health matters within their boundaries. At the same time, the federal government has responsibilities related to national public safety and health protection. There can be no disputing the legitimacy of federal involvement in public health matters of an interprovincial/territorial nature. Under International Health Regulations, the federal government also has a responsibility to report and monitor public health emergencies of potential harm to other countries. Since Canada's SARS experience, there has been much progress in building FPT cooperation and increasing consultation on public health matters. However, the division of responsibility has led us to a situation where public health and clinical guidance in each province and territory was similar, yet different. Although the Pandemic Influenza Committee and the Special FPT Advisory Committee on H1N1 Influenza strove for consensus at the national level, individual provinces and territories were under no obligation to implement the guidance agreed to at the FPT level. Consultative and collaborative processes at the FPT level created delays in decision-making and directly interfered with the capacity of front-line professionals to respond to the urgent health needs of their patients. This led to a sense of confusion in the media and a loss of trust among the public and health professionals regarding Canada's capacity to respond to pH1N1. System capacity Canada's health system lacks surge capacity and can be sorely tested during a public health emergency, such as the recent experience with pH1N1. The underdeveloped public health infrastructure also means that it is a challenge to handle more than one national crisis at a time. To mount a response to pH1N1, public health units pulled human resources from other programs and many critical ones were delayed, suspended or cancelled altogether. During the first wave of pH1N1, Manitoba experienced a severe outbreak that stretched the resources of its critical care infrastructure to its limits. Front-line health care providers were inundated with telephone calls from the worried well and an increase in visits from those with flu symptoms. If pH1N1 had been the severe pandemic that was expected and for which Canada had been preparing, our health system would have been brought to its knees. In 2008, the Canadian Coalition for Public Health in the 21st Century noted that Canada remains vulnerable to the risks presented by epidemics and pandemics. This vulnerability remains today, and a long-range plan to build our public health capacity and workforce and to address the lack of surge capacity in our health system must become a priority if we are to be prepared for the next emergency. We recommend: 5. That the federal government increase infrastructure funding to provinces/territories to assist local health emergency preparedness planning and response, to reduce variation across the country and to integrate clinical care structures into public health structures at the local level. 6. That the Public Health Agency of Canada review the recommendations of the 2003 report of the National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health (Naylor report) in light of the pH1N1 experience and develop a national action plan to address the persistent gaps. Public health/primary care partnership Family physicians, in particular, understand that primary health care happens at the local level. In fact, so does all public health. During times of public health crisis, it is crucial for public health and primary care to work together, each respecting, supporting and bolstering the efforts of the other. Strengthening local public health and primary care structures and the interface between them would have resulted in improved, shared understanding of each sector's roles and responsibilities during the pH1N1 epidemic, better communications, improved data sharing and, most important, better served populations. Public health measures are directed toward the mitigation of disease through surveillance, research and outbreak management activities, while physicians provide information, education and clinical treatment to their patients. A commitment from both sectors at the local and provincial levels - and the professionals within each sector - to work together in the inter-pandemic period to build on processes that allow sharing of perspectives and information is essential. It is crucial that local public health authorities receive financial resources to increase their ability to collaborate effectively with family physicians, specialist physicians and other front-line providers. A number of the challenges faced by front-line public health workers and front-line physicians during the pH1N1 outbreak could have been lessened if there had been stronger links within the health system. We recommend: 7. That the Public Health Agency of Canada develop a focus on improving the interrelationship between primary care and public health to support collaboration during public health crises. Vaccination A key measure to combat pandemic influenza is mass vaccination. On the whole, Canada mounted an effective campaign: 45% of Canadians were vaccinated, and the proportion was even higher in First Nations communities - a first in Canadian history. Canada was one of the first countries with sufficient vaccine for the population and, with one domestic vaccine supplier, Canada avoided the confusion of multiple formulations as seen in the United States. The outcome was positive, but many public health units were stretched as expectations exceeded the pre-existing constrained resources. Although we recognize that the provinces and territories have quite different approaches to the delivery of their routine immunization programs, there is agreement that the pandemic immunization process did not adequately engage physicians in planning and delivery. A number of difficulties, such as the impact of bulk packaging, manufacturing delays that affected the agreed "sequencing" of patients and the logistics of inventory management, led to friction between front-line public health practitioners and family physicians. These could have been avoided with strengthened interdependence and mutual understanding before this crisis. The great variation in mass vaccination programs between provinces/territories, and even between local public health units, led to public confusion. Recognition of the diversity of primary care settings in which physicians work and bilateral planning in advance of the event is essential, because it is simply not feasible to tailor responses to myriad settings in the heat of the moment. Television broadcasts of long lines of people waiting to be vaccinated contributed to a loss of confidence in the system at a time when public confidence was sorely needed to encourage vaccination. Nationally promulgated clinical practice guidelines had great potential to create consistent clinical responses across the country. Instead, the variation and lack of coordination in providing important clinical information during this crisis eroded the public's confidence in the federal, provincial and territorial response. Ensuring future consistency in clinical approaches will require examination of ethical principles for the allocation of resources, such as anti-virals, vaccines and hospital treatment. Public engagement in the discussion of ethical principles is essential and, as much as possible, the consultative process should be transparent and undertaken in advance. We recommend: 8. That the Public Health Network seek advanced pan-Canadian commitment to a harmonized and singular national response to clinical practice guidelines, including mass vaccination programs, during times of potential public health crisis. Conclusion In 2003, in its submission to the National Advisory Committee on SARS, the Canadian Medical Association noted that the uptake of new information is influenced by many qualitative factors, and that research is needed to determine how best to communicate with individual physicians and other health care providers in emergency situations. Communication processes should be based on sound research and build on existing communication networks and relationships. The College of Family Physicians of Canada has recommended that information networks be strengthened to promote the sharing of the most relevant information among family physicians, other primary care providers and public health at the local level. We believe that PHAC is well positioned to undertake research on how health professionals can best receive information and to catalogue existing communication networks to build them into a well-coordinated national emergency response communication system. We must work together to translate pandemic information into practical messages relevant to front-line providers and employ trusted channels to deliver key messages to our patients and the public. Broad consensus is developing that our experience with the pH1N1 outbreak has shown that one of our greatest needs in preparing for the next public health emergency is for a national communications strategy that involves all levels of government, targets all sectors of our health system and uses the channels with which these targets are most familiar. An effective response to infectious disease outbreaks depends on effective surveillance, data collection and sharing and tracking of clinical interventions. The absence of a national communicable disease/immunization monitoring system is an ongoing problem. In 2003, the report of the National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health recommended that "the [Public Health] Agency [of Canada] should facilitate the long term development of a comprehensive and national public health surveillance system that will collect, analyze, and disseminate laboratory and health care facility data on infectious diseases... to relevant stakeholders." In 2010, Canada still does not have a comprehensive national surveillance and epidemiological system. A pan-Canadian electronic health information system is urgently needed and must become a priority during the inter-pandemic phase, with adequate federal funding and provincial/territorial collaboration. Greater adoption of the EMR in primary care and better public health EHRs with the ability to link systems will augment existing surveillance capacity and should be considered essential to a pan-Canadian system. Many of the challenges front-line health practitioners faced during the pH1N1 were also challenges during the SARS outbreak in 2003. The Naylor report proposed a number of measures to improve Canada's readiness and strengthen public health. Although a great deal of work and effort has gone into building links with and between provinces/territories and the federal government within the public health and the health emergency management system, little has trickled down to the front lines. This is not to devalue the much-improved spirit of FPT cooperation and the important achievements that have been made. Rather it is to suggest that, as the roof is no longer leaking, it is time to focus attention on the foundation - the response at the local level. Embedding primary care expertise in public health planning within the PHAC and at provincial/territorial and local levels will help circumvent problems and improve the effectiveness of our health system to respond to public health emergencies. A dialogue between primary care and the emergency management structures will help the response team understand and value the capabilities within primary care and build them into their planning and response systems. At the end of the day, we need to nurture collaborative relations between public health and primary care. Our shared objective is protecting the health of Canadians, recognizing that, in reality, neither system can be successful in isolation. It is essential that we trust each other's professionalism and expertise and work together to ensure that a strong foundation is in place to protect Canadians from future health threats. We have the will and expertise. We need the resources and a firm commitment to move forward. We have had two "wake-up calls" - SARS and pH1N1. Let's not wait for a third to find that we are not yet prepared. Recommendations 1. That the Public Health Agency of Canada, with the provinces and territories, evaluate the effectiveness of pH1N1 communications between public health and physicians and other front-line primary health care providers, and use the finding of this evaluation to research options for future response to a public health crisis. 2. That federal, provincial/territorial public health authorities and health care professionals and their associations work together in the inter-pandemic period to develop a pan-Canadian communication strategy to be used during health emergencies. 3. The establishment of a pan-Canadian centre within the Public Health Agency of Canada - similar to the Centre for Effective Practice - to undertake timely knowledge translation of clinical management guidelines for clinicians during public health crises. 4. That the federal and provincial/territorial governments provide EMR funding to enable clinical care and public health authorities to build interconnectedness and allow real-time information collection and analysis. 5. That the federal government increase infrastructure funding to provinces/territories to assist local health emergency preparedness planning and response, to reduce variation across the country and to integrate clinical care structures into public health structures at the local level. 6. That the Public Health Agency of Canada review the recommendations of the 2003 report of the National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health (Naylor report) in light of the pH1N1 experience and develop a national action plan to address the persistent gaps. 7. That the Public Health Agency of Canada develop a focus on improving the interrelationship between primary care and public health to support collaboration during public health crises. 8. That the Public Health Network seek advanced pan-Canadian commitment to a harmonized and singular national response to clinical practice guidelines, including mass vaccination programs, during times of potential public health crisis.
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