ARCHIVED - Sustainable Development in Public Health: A long term journey begins

Public Health Agency of Canada
Sustainable Development Strategy 2007- 2010

Message from the Minister

I am pleased to table the Public Health Agency of Canada's (PHAC) second and more fulsome sustainable development strategy. When the Agency's enabling statute has received royal assent, the Agency will have the legislative footing it needs to strengthen Canada's public health system and meet its full potential as the federal focal point for addressing public health issues.

PHAC's mission "to promote and protect the health of Canadians through leadership, partnership, innovation and action in public health" gives it an important role in contributing to Canada's sustainable development. Sustainable development challenges all Canadians to think more holistically about the environment, society and the economy, just as public health challenges them to think holistically about the environment, society and the economy as determinants of population health.

From a global perspective, Canadians are some of the healthiest people in the world, but it is a stark reality that some groups in Canada are not as healthy as others. To become a healthier people, we must address the root causes of chronic diseases while we continue to prevent, prepare for and fight infectious diseases. Our first sustainable development strategy supports the Agency's priorities of developing and delivering integrated approaches to promote health, preventing and controlling infectious and chronic diseases and injuries, preparing for and responding to public health emergencies, and strengthening Canada's public health capacity by working together with our many partners.

As Minister of Health, I am working to deliver on this government's priority of reducing patient wait times. One of the best ways to do so is to reduce the burden of disease on the health care system and increase the system's sustainability by enhancing the overall health of Canadians. I am confident that the commitments made in this strategy will advance the Agency's goal of creating healthier Canadians and communities in a healthier world.

Tony Clement
Minister of Health

Message from the CPHO

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) was created to help protect the health and safety of all Canadians. The Agency's role is to help build an effective public health system in Canada - one that allows Canadians to achieve better health and well-being while protecting them from threats to their health security.

As the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, I advise the Minister of Health on public health matters and communicate directly to Canadians on key issues of public health.

While this is only our second Sustainable Development Strategy, and our first full one, sustainable development is not a new concept at the Agency. Several of our programs already reflect its principles. Over the next three years, we intend to further incorporate sustainable development into the planning and implementation of our activities, ensure that the Agency conducts its operations in a sustainable manner and build our internal capacity for achieving the first two goals. The implementation of the Strategy will not only advance the Agency's own mission but will also contribute to government-wide efforts to “greening” operations and promote healthy and sustainable communities.

Sustainable development is a long-term journey, and one that we are committed to pursuing over the coming years. Our strategy is not to try to do everything at once, but rather to lay a foundation for future efforts while realizing real achievements in selected priority areas.

The success of our goals depends in part on ensuring that Canada's development is environmentally, socially and economically sustainable. The Public Health Agency of Canada will continue to work closely with the provinces and territories, as well as civil society, to achieve sustainable development, keep Canadians healthy, and help reduce pressures on the health care system.

Dr. David Butler-Jones
Chief Public Health Officer

1. Introduction

Sustainable development is about human well-being; that is, enabling people to lead healthy and economically productive lives in a clean environment, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Understanding health as a state of physical, mental and social well-being - and not merely as the absence of disease or infirmity - is essential to advancing sustainable development initiatives in the field of public health.

Sustainable development cannot take place in societies marked by persistent socio-economic inequalities, large-scale environmental degradation or widespread disease. Similarly, the promotion of public health requires sound physical and built environments, a prosperous economy and a just society.

Public health is therefore both
a pre-condition to, and an outcome of, sustainable development.

There is growing international consensus that public health and sustainable development are interrelated, long-term objectives that must be addressed in an integrated manner. Beginning in 1992 at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, and as reiterated in 2002 at the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development, protecting, promoting and maintaining human health have been at the core of sustainable development initiatives internationally, nationally and locally.

In Canada, a wealth of evidence supports the notion that factors as diverse as social support networks, education, employment and working conditions and the physical environment are all key determinants of public health. Many of these determinants lie outside the control of health agencies. PHAC therefore must work with national and international partners and stakeholders to achieve its mission of promoting and protecting the health of Canadians as well as working towards the overarching and complementary Health Goals for Canada.

In a globalized world, the health of Canadians is affected by the health of people everywhere. Therefore, Canadians and the Public Health Agency of Canada have a stake in the sustainable development of other countries as well as our own.

2. Background

As a listed entity or category I department under the Auditor General Act, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) is required to prepare a Sustainable Development Strategy (SDS) within two years after its creation and every three years thereafter, and to report on implementation progress to Parliament through its Departmental Performance Report on a yearly basis.

The Government of Canada established PHAC by Order in Council in September 2004. The preamble to Bill C-5, An Act respecting the establishment of the Public Health Agency of Canada, signals the intention of the Government of Canada to take public health measures; to foster collaboration within the field of public health; and to promote cooperation and consultation in the field of public health with provincial, territorial and foreign governments, and with other organizations. This preamble also states that the Government of Canada considers that the creation of a public health agency for Canada and the appointment of a Chief Public Health Officer will contribute to federal efforts to identify and reduce public health risk factors and to support national readiness for public health threats. (The Agency's mandate is featured in Appendix 1.)

The Agency has a staff of approximately 2100, located in headquarters in both Ottawa and Winnipeg, six regional offices and a Northern Secretariat. It operates several laboratories, including one of the most secure laboratories in the world, which is capable of handling the most toxic pathogens. PHAC's annual budget is a little over $500 million, of which it spends over a third in grants and contributions to its various partners. It manages four main program activities related to:

  1. Health Promotion;
  2. Disease Prevention and Control;
  3. Emergency Preparedness and Response; and
  4. Strengthening Public Health Capacity.

A more detailed Agency profile appears in Appendix 1.

Agency staff understand that environmental, social and economic conditions affect public health. They recognize that the Agency contributes to:

  • economic sustainability, by promoting health and reducing health care costs;
  • social sustainability, by building community capacity and empowering individuals;
  • environmental sustainability, through its environmentally conscious operations.

PHAC knows the important contribution that it can make to sustainable development (SD) through its public health policies, programs and operations. An important focus for this first full strategy is, however, on internal capacity - building the systems and skills to support further gains in the sustainability of operations and to support greater integration of the principles of SD within public health policies and programs.

This second SDS further develops and refines PHAC's first one, a partial strategy which was deposited with the Clerk of the House of Commons in August 2006, and will form the basis for future reporting to Parliament. In this second and more developed strategy, PHAC has identified three goals that it will pursue on its own or in partnership to promote better public health. In identifying how to meet these goals, the Agency has drawn on Health Canada's previous and current work in this area. The main links between Health Canada's and the Agency's strategies are listed in Appendix 2. PHAC's strategy also reflects government-wide efforts to the greening of operations, common objectives for which Environment Canada has taken a lead role, and guidance from the Commissioner on the Environment and Sustainable Development.

Public health agencies are well-placed to take the lead in a multidisciplinary approach to defining issues, assembling needed data, conducting and stimulating research, and influencing policies nationally and internationally. Public health needs to emphasize the risks associated with overstressing natural resources - nature's services - to the limit, because neither financial services nor human resources for health services will meet demand if life-support systems were to collapse.... Public health agencies can identify those paths of development which increase disease and ill-health, and those which promote health and prevent disease.

Global Ecological Integrity and Sustainable Development:
Cornerstones of Public Health,
World Health Organization, 1998

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