Statement from the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada on her Report on the State of Public Health in Canada 2020—From Risk to Resilience: An Equity Approach to COVID-19


October 28, 2020 - Ottawa, ON - Public Health Agency of Canada

“Today, the Honourable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Health, tabled in Parliament my annual report entitled From Risk to Resilience: An Equity Approach to COVID-19. The report describes COVID-19’s broader consequences and is a call to incorporate a health equity approach into pandemic preparedness, response and recovery.

COVID-19 is a powerful example of the serious threat that emerging infectious diseases continue to pose to Canadians now and into the future. It has also jolted our collective consciousness into recognizing that our health depends on our social and economic well-being.

Equity matters—not only to those who are unjustly excluded—but to all of us. While the COVID-19 pandemic affects us all, the health impacts have been worse for seniors, workers who provide essential services, racialized populations, people living with disabilities and women. A health equity agenda means that sustained efforts to improve employment conditions, housing and access to social and health services can better protect people in Canada from health crises, build resilience and create lasting equitable opportunities.

Driven by the evidence summarized in the report, I am calling for action in three key areas:

  • Sustain leadership and governance at all levels for structural change across health, social and economic sectors. Practically, this means that data needs to be stratified to understand the multiple needs (e.g. housing, safety and employment) of people. Pandemic plans that are multi-sectoral need to be tested on a regular basis. And, the progress of subsequent collaborative actions need to be measured and adjusted until inequities are eliminated.
  • Harness the power of social cohesion as a key ingredient to controlling and minimizing the negative impacts of this pandemic. Communities and countries that have strong norms of taking care of each other can better prevent and control resurgences. Everyone has a role to play to make this happen. Public health leaders, media and political leaders all need to share evidence, stories and demonstrate willingness to work together on the ongoing response to the pandemic. These actions can provide Canadians with the information and the confidence to take daily public health action and to call for supports for others who are most at risk.
  • Strengthen public health capacity to ensure that Canada has a health system that is able to surge and adapt during a crisis while maintaining capacity to address on-going critical issues. Usually public health efforts are invisible to the general population. A pandemic makes obvious the need for a robust and agile public health system that has the workforce and tools needed to tackle emergencies and inequities. It offers an opportunity to re- evaluate what sustained investments and the future of public health would look like.

The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the complexities of responding to a global public health crisis. It has shown the power of collaboration and the commitment of Canadians united to control the virus. It has also shown the interconnectedness of our health, social and economic policies and supports. How these sectors work together, with the engagement of civil society and communities, will influence our success against COVID-19 resurgences and help to mitigate the impacts of future health emergencies.

No one is protected from COVID-19 until everyone is protected."

Dr. Theresa Tam
Chief Public Health Officer of Canada

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