Statement from the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada: An Update on Her Vision and Areas of Focus
June 26, 2020 Ottawa, ON Public Health Agency of Canada
OTTAWA - Over the last number of months, the COVID-19 pandemic has tested our public health system like never before. As I mark my third anniversary as Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, I am heartened by the dedication, compassion, and collaboration that Canadians have shown in addressing this unprecedented challenge. Early on, we embraced staying socially connected, even if physically apart. We showed how to “caremonger” as individuals and as communities, keeping one another safe and supported. We have learned and adapted, together as Canadians.
Our collective hard work is paying off. We are observing continued decline in case counts across all age groups in Canada with the steepest declines among the oldest age groups, who are most at risk for severe outcomes. This progress is encouraging, and it is essential that we maintain our resolve in adhering to the public health measures that have helped us flatten the curve. Each of us can help protect our neighbours and communities by maintaining a safe physical distance, washing our hands, staying home when you feel sick, and wearing a non-medical mask or facial covering when it is not possible to keep a safe physical distance from one another. We have learned much about the virus since its emergence just a short six months ago, and we have come far in adapting our response and building our resilience. As we move forward, I am confident that Canadians will continue on this path with compassion and ingenuity, supporting one another’s wellbeing while remaining steadfast in our resolve to stop the spread of COVID-19. The actions we take today will shape the future.
It is equally important to reflect on the vulnerabilities COVID-19 has exposed in our social and health systems. At the start of my mandate as Chief Public Health Officer, I set out a vision to reduce health inequities in Canada, recognizing that many of our most pressing public health issues are impacted by the social, economic, and cultural factors outside of the health system. Throughout the pandemic, we have seen COVID-19 disproportionately affect population groups living with existing social and health disparities, underscoring the need to better support the determinants of health.
Critically, our response to the pandemic brought to the forefront failures in how we care for older Canadians. The impact on older adults living in congregate settings has often been severe and tragic. While we have made good progress in reducing the number of outbreaks in these settings, it is vital that we accelerate our efforts to protect older adults’ health and wellbeing.
As we learn to live with the measures needed to maintain control of COVID-19, I reflect on the burden felt by seniors isolated at home, by children forced to navigate an unprecedented generational challenge, and by all Canadians impacted by social and economic uncertainty. I also reflect on the vulnerabilities in our social fabric felt by those who have experienced xenophobia, racism, and stigma. These burdens influence our physical and mental health. In 2019, I reported on stigma as a driver of negative health outcomes and inequities, and offered a path for developing a more inclusive health system.
Efforts to eliminate stigma are particularly important as it intersects with other pressing public health issues in Canada. In parallel with the COVID-19 pandemic, many communities across the country continue to struggle with historic rates of drug overdose deaths and substance-use related harms. COVID-19 has exacerbated the impact of the opioid crisis on some populations. Last year, 3,823 Canadians lost their lives to opioids. In May of 2020, British Columbia reported 170 suspected drug overdose deaths, the most in one month ever for the province. We know that stigma stops people from reaching out, and using drugs alone is a major risk factor for experiencing a fatal overdose. People who use drugs may be feeling more isolated as a result of the physical distancing measures to control COVID-19. Now more than ever, we must maintain our resolve to work together to stop overdose-related harms.
As I look to the next two years of my mandate as Chief Public Health Officer, I am emboldened by the spirit of collaboration across Canada and the world. Scientists and public health experts have removed barriers for sharing information so that our actions are based on the best possible evidence. Indigenous leaders have worked together to protect their communities from COVID-19. Young people everywhere have made their voices heard in the fight against racism.
My goal as Chief Public Health Officer is to help set up the conditions that allow all Canadians to have the chance to achieve optimal health. I call on all Canadians to help me achieve this goal by harnessing the spirit of collaboration to protect and support the health of our neighbours, families, and communities.
Dr. Theresa Tam
Chief Public Health Officer
Public Health Agency of Canada
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