Statement from the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada: An Update on Her Vision and Areas of Focus


June 26, 2018
Ottawa, ON
Public Health Agency of Canada

Ottawa, Ontario

As I mark my first anniversary as the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, I am reflecting on the incredible Canadians, public health colleagues, community leaders, and individuals with lived and living experience that I have had the privilege of meeting and working with this year. Each of them has contributed meaningfully to my vision of working toward better health for all Canadians. Their willingness to engage and collaborate is essential to our mutual success. I have listened to Inuit elders recount the trauma of our past practices in treating tuberculosis in the North; I have travelled across the country to witness local efforts to address the deadly impacts of the opioid crisis; and I have met with community activists, engineers and planners who have come together to link-up urban development with environmentally sustainable and healthy communities.

As I have stated, a collaborative and comprehensive approach is required because the public health community does not have all the levers necessary to tackle the complex public health challenges we face. Working across sectors and all levels of government is key to our success.

I saw this first-hand in Qikiqtarjuaq, Nunavut, as community leaders worked with health experts from the Nunavut Department of Health, the Public Health Agency's epidemiologists, experts from our National Microbiology Laboratory, the Department of Indigenous Services Canada, and physicians from Ottawa hospitals to screen community members for active and latent Tuberculosis (TB) — a proactive measure that directly contributed to ending a local outbreak. One week later, I released a report on the Elimination of Tuberculosis in Canada acknowledging the intergenerational trauma caused by our past practices in treating TB in northern communities and emphasizing the need for collective action to address this social disease. There has never been a better time to push for the elimination of TB, with active commitment by the Government of Canada, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, and many other partners.

Turning toward the opioid crisis in Canada, I saw in Montreal how investments in harm reduction strategies can be effective when clients of a mobile supervised consumption site are asked for their views on how to make the service more client-centered. I have met over 300 youth through the Forum for Young Canadians, the PM's Youth Council, and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada as well as many other groups, including people who use drugs, as part of public education efforts to minimise the risks and harms associated with the use of opioids and cannabis.

For the past year, I brought a similar emphasis on collaboration to my work as co-chair of the Federal, Provincial and Territorial Special Advisory Committee on the epidemic of opioid overdoses. Working across multiple sectors, including public health partners, coroners and medical examiners, and Emergency Medical Services providers in the provinces and territories, we developed a data collection and reporting system to capture opioid-related harms and deaths. Public health officers from the Public Health Agency of Canada have been stationed across the country to provide direct data infrastructure support for these initiatives.

Of course, where we live can impact our health just as much as how we live. I am struck at the depth of commitment and expertise I have witnessed throughout Canada focused on designing and building communities that are livable, walkable, and sustainable. While hosting the first Federal Dialogue on the built environment, I was heartened to see that colleagues from 13 federal departments such as the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Infrastructure Canada, Statistics Canada and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation share a common vision; healthy Canadians living in safe, inclusive and livable communities where they can prosper. It's a vision that I share as well, as outlined in my 2017 annual report on the Healthy Built Environment.

Earlier this year, I launched the Health Professional Forum — a network of 18 national health associations representing front line primary care providers and institutional organizations. This partnership is key as so many of the fundamental and systemic changes we need to make to ensure a healthy population rely on the trusted role that front line health and allied professionals play with individual patients. This Forum will initially focus efforts on systemic issues of stigma and discrimination in the health system that negatively impact Indigenous peoples. It will also consider common approaches to antibiotic stewardship and prescribing practices to curb antimicrobial resistance, provide evidence-based information for front line health providers on risks and harms of cannabis, and consider issues around dementia and our aging population.

As the CPHO, the Canadian population is my patient, and its care requires many hands working together toward shared goals. While the best evidence and science must guide our advice and our interventions, we must also open our minds and ears to Indigenous knowledge, lived experiences, and multiple perspectives. At the very least, we must acknowledge those perspectives and differences. Effective public health policy depends on it.

Looking toward the coming year, I will table my annual report to Parliament on the state of public health in Canada in the Fall. I will focus on the health status of Canadians highlighting emerging trends and health inequalities.  The report will also describe the drivers of problematic substance use in youth and examine promising actions for prevention and to enhance well-being.  Finally, I will continue to work with key partners in advancing my public health priorities With the right collaboration and effort, we can address root causes in these priority areas and focus on interventions that will start to level the playing field so that all Canadians can live in optimal health.

Dr. Theresa Tam
Chief Public Health Officer


Media Relations
Public Health Agency of Canada

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