ARCHIVED: Background: Canada's Response to WHO Commission on Social Determinants of Health


Canadians, in general, enjoy very good health, but some Canadians are not as healthy as others. Major health disparities persist between various groups in Canadian society. Key health inequalities are associated with factors such as socioeconomic status, Aboriginal heritage, gender and geographic location. For example, when compared to Canadians more generally, First Nations and Inuit peoples have a life expectancy of 5 - 10 years less. Many of the consequences of these health inequalities are avoidable, including preventable early death, disease and disability, and are costly for the health system and society in general.

Health inequalities within and between countries have also emerged as an area of concern for the global community. To improve the health of the world's poorest and most vulnerable populations, we need to address the root causes of health problems. These root causes are the social conditions in which people live and work, referred to as the social determinants of health (SDH) as defined by the WHO Commission on Social Determinants of Health. Evidence shows that most of the global burden of disease and the bulk of health inequalities are caused by social determinants.

Read more about factors influencing and/or determining health , and how the concept of population health has evolved since 1970s.

To address the problem of growing health inequities between and within countries, the World Health Organization (WHO) created a WHO Commission on Social Determinants of Health (CSDH) in March 2005, chaired by Professor Sir Michael Marmot.

The WHO Commission on Social Determinants of Health (CSDH), over a three year period (2005-2008), aims to lever policy change by compiling evidence on the science and action on social determinants of health, widening debate on the topic and proposing national and global policies for action. With Canada's Commissioner, the Honourable Monique Bégin on board, it is an excellent opportunity for Canada to further the development of policies that reduce health disparities and improve the health and well-being of Canadians as well as people across the globe.

Canada's Contribution to Date

Canada is actively contributing to the Commission though leadership, expertise and resources and specifically supporting its work in a number of ways including:

  • supporting the participation of Commissioner Bégin;
  • establishing the Canadian Reference Group, to support Canada's contributions to the Commission. Dr. Sylvie Stachenko, Deputy Chief Public Health Officer, Public Health Agency of Canada chairs the group;
  • supporting a Knowledge Hub on Early Child Development at the University of British Columbia;
  • supporting a Knowledge Hub on Globalization at the University of Ottawa;
  • supporting a Knowledge Hub on Health Systems in South Africa via the International Development Research Centre; and
  • participating as a core member of the WHO Commission Global Country Partners network. Canada will be developing some policy learning case studies to share with other countries and developing specific collaboration initiatives with some countries to meet common needs.
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