Operating context and key risks

Operating context

PHAC operates in a complex, interconnected, and evolving environment where drivers such as social determinants of healthFootnote 1, climate change and demographic change impact the lives of Canadians. As a result, PHAC’s work requires collaborative partnerships with all levels of government, the private sector, non-governmental organizations, health professionals, and the public.

Although Canada is one of the healthiest countries in the world, not all Canadians experience the same quality of health; there are also health inequalities among groups of women, men, and gender-diverse people. Vulnerable populations, such as low-income families, children, Indigenous peoples and the elderly, are more likely to have poor health including disease, injury, mental illness, and obesity.

Canada continues to face persistent public health challenges, including infectious disease outbreaks, the re-emergence of vaccine preventable diseases, and the spread of drug-resistant organisms. Also, the rapid movement of people and goods across borders facilitates the spread of disease and health threats. Climate change is altering where disease occurs and how it spreads. The emergence and spread of the Zika virus in the Americas and the opioid crisis across Canada are two examples of public health challenges faced by Canadians over the past year.

While public health is a shared responsibility, PHAC plays a leadership role in promoting and protecting the health of Canadians through partnership, innovation and action. By continually improving its understanding of the underlying determinants of public health and priorities of stakeholders, PHAC is better able to adapt its programs and activities to respond to needs of Canadians.

Key risks

Risk 1: Simultaneous Events/Large Event

Risk Statement:

There is a risk that a significant or simultaneous public health event(s) may occur and PHAC may not have the scope and depth of workforce or the capacity and resources required to mobilize an effective and timely response, while maintaining its non-emergency obligations. This may hinder PHAC's role in providing leadership in the coordination and integration of the Health Portfolio's emergency preparedness and response functions, and implementation of other public health priorities.

Mitigating strategy and effectiveness:

  • Update the Health Portfolio All-Hazards Risk and Capability Assessment to better understand public health capacity gaps and support prioritization of opportunities for enhanced preparedness;
  • Increase PHAC's ability to rapidly mobilize personnel to respond to public health events/emergencies;
  • Leverage new technologies to foster greater information sharing and communication between stakeholders (e.g., online portals and the Canada Communicable Disease Report [CCDR] online); and
  • Finalize a back-up pandemic vaccine supply contract.

Link to the department's Programs:

  • 1.1: Public Health Infrastructure
  • 1.3: Health Security

Link to mandate letter commitments or to government-wide and departmental priorities:

  • PHAC Priority 1: Strengthened public health capacity and science leadership
  • PHAC Priority 3: Enhanced public health security

Risk 2: Access to Timely and Accurate Data

Risk Statement:

There is a risk that, as the volume of and need for public health data increases both domestically and internationally, PHAC may not have access to timely, reliable and accurate information and/or data, nor the ability to undertake necessary data analysis, which could reduce effective evidence-based decision‑making pertaining to public health matters.Footnote 2

Mitigating strategy and effectiveness:

  • Work with P/T stakeholders to support timely information sharing and continued technology implementation (e.g., PulseNet Canada, the Canadian Public Health Lab network, and Canadian Chronic Disease Surveillance System, and the Electronic Canadian Hospital Injuries Reporting and Prevention Program);
  • Collaborate with P/Ts to implement the Action Plan of the Blueprint for a Federated System for Public Health Surveillance in Canada to support a coordinated national approach to strengthening surveillance for public health priorities; and
  • Conduct assessments to improve the way PHAC uses, disseminates, and shares information in terms of the availability, usability, and uptake of PHAC reports and publications (e.g., CCDR, Health Promotion and Chronic Disease Prevention in Canada journal, surveillance reports, and guidance materials).

Link to the department’s Programs:

  • 1.1: Public Health Infrastructure
  • 1.2: Health Promotion and Disease Prevention

Link to mandate letter commitments or to government-wide and departmental priorities:

  • PHAC Priority 1: Strengthened public health capacity and science leadership
  • PHAC Priority 4: Excellence and innovation in management

Risk 3: Keeping up with the Changing External Environment

Risk Statement:

There is a risk that PHAC may not be able to keep up with the rapid pace of change in the external environment. This may include advancements in communications, scientific discoveries and emerging public health technologies. This may hinder PHAC’s ability to maintain its relevance, which could affect its ability to exhibit excellence and innovation in public health.

Mitigating strategy and effectiveness:

  • Target the development and/or enhancement of innovative science and emerging laboratory technology and practices (e.g., genomics);
  • Translate research and evidence into information and tools that promote good health and prevent disease and injury;
  • Draft updated national vaccination coverage goals and vaccine preventable disease reduction targets with provinces and territories;
  • Launch the Immunization Partnership Fund to support projects aimed at increasing vaccination uptake and access in Canada; and
  • Address public health risks on aircraft, ships and other passenger conveyances by implementing modernized regulations related to potable water and enhancing oversight of food safety.

Link to the department’s Programs:

  • 1.1: Public Health Infrastructure
  • 1.2: Health Promotion and Disease Prevention
  • 1.3: Health Security

Link to mandate letter commitments or to government-wide and departmental priorities:

  • PHAC Priority 1: Strengthened public health capacity and science leadership
  • PHAC Priority 2: Leadership on health promotion and disease prevention
  • PHAC Priority 3: Enhanced public health security
  • PHAC Priority 4: Excellence and innovation in management

Risk 4: Public Health Agency Physical Infrastructure

Risk Statement:

There is a risk that without necessary and adequate infrastructure, as well as timely maintenance of, and investment in, facilities and assets, PHAC may be exposed to threats which could impact how PHAC will deliver on its mandate and objectives.

Mitigating strategy and effectiveness:

  • Assess existing laboratory capacity as part of developing a strategy to make the best use of Canada’s biocontainment laboratory facilities.

Link to the department’s Programs:

  • 1.1: Public Health Infrastructure

Link to mandate letter commitments or to government-wide and departmental priorities:

  • PHAC Priority 1: Strengthened public health capacity and science leadership
  • PHAC Priority 4: Excellence and innovation in management

PHAC operates in a complex and interconnected environment where, for example, demographic change, climate change, and advancements in technology directly impact Canadians. For instance, global supply chains and rapid international transportation systems move goods and people across national borders, carrying with them the risk that a health threat, emerging from anywhere in the world, could enter Canada. Similarly, climate change presents a range of risks, from the spread of specific diseases to extreme weather events.

Although Canada is one of the healthiest countries in the world, it will continue to face some persistent public health challenges. For example, rising rates of chronic diseases (the cause of 65% of all deaths in Canada each year); the frequency of infectious disease outbreaks and re-emergence of vaccine preventable diseases; rising obesity rates; increasing mental health issues; an aging population; and the spread of drug-resistant organisms may influence the ability of PHAC’s programs to deliver and achieve results for Canadians.

Within this context, PHAC manages a range of risks in pursuing its mission to promote and protect the health of Canadians and in consideration of its operating context. The risks identified in the previous table are drawn from PHAC’s 2016–19 Corporate Risk Profile. These risks are ranked as having the greatest potential to significantly impact PHAC’s ability to achieve its objectives, and having the most important potential health and safety consequences for Canadians in the event of a failure of any risk response strategy.

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